An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

Look to the West: Lords of the Rhine
  • Look to the West: Lords of the Rhine

    The Lotharingians are no strangers to Triune armies marching forth across their western border to try and seize the rich Rhineland. While formidably wealthy, they lack the manpower to go toe-to-toe with the Triunes, so their strategy has relied on a combination of fortresses and allies to counter Triune numbers. Networks of citadels (which Vauban rates higher than most of the Roman forts on the Danube; the Lotharingian ones are newer and designed with more modern and longer-ranged artillery in mind) are to stall the Triunes, giving time for Lotharingian allies, primarily the Holy Roman Emperors although once the Spanish and Arletians, to rally and send relief armies.

    There are flaws in the strategy, as can be seen simply by reviewing the earlier Triune attacks. Henri II’s invasion of Lotharingia is called the Third Rhine War. The First Rhine War was from 1574-78 and was a major Triune victory, the allied intervention only serving to curb the extent of the victory. The Second Rhine War had been a humiliating Triune defeat, but only after a decade-long slog from 1609-19 that only became a humiliating Triune defeat after the Brothers’ War in the Holy Roman Empire came to an end, allowing a smashing Wittelsbach intervention.

    The strategy is now utterly bankrupt. Help from the Holy Roman Empire is obviously out of the question. Hope had been placed on the Spanish Army of Observation linking up with the Bernese League and the Reichsarmee forming on the Upper Rhine in 1635, but those had been crushed by the battles of Wennenden and Mulhouse. (Wennenden prompted an anti-Roman backlash in Lotharingia. Many Lotharingian merchants in the east thus take personal pleasure in exploiting Roman commercial problems since they view the Romans as de facto Triune allies.)

    It is difficult to overstate the significance of Wennenden and Mulhouse. With their prospective allies so early and comprehensively swept from the board, and the Romans acting functionally as Triune allies (the Italian affair reinforces this narrative later in the decade), Lotharingian morale is shredded at the outset. With morale at rock bottom, defeatism is rife from the start.

    Given Henri II’s vast material superiority, it is likely he would’ve achieved his aims anyway, but the speed and cheapness of his offensives were aided immensely by the Roman victory at Wennenden and its follow-up at Mulhouse. Henri II was not joking when he said that Manuel Philanthropenos was his best general, and he didn’t have to give him so much as a copper coin or a hardtack biscuit.

    King Albrecht III was left scrambling to come up with a new strategy. He still had his modern fortress belt and even the Triune siege train under Vauban will not be able to crack that cheaply and easily. Triune resources are vast but they are not infinite. Perhaps Triune strength can be gradually worn down by constant sieges until it is exhausted enough Henri II will be forced to make terms Albrecht III finds tolerable.

    It may sound reasonable and a smart use of the strengths available to him, but there is a serious flaw in Albrecht’s new strategy. Walls are useless without guards, and forts are useless without garrisons, and those garrisons are made up by people. To truly make this process as grueling and damaging as possible, the fortresses would need to fight even after the walls were breached, forcing the Triunes to storm the citadel, taking the atrocious casualties in the process. But for the garrison to do so would be to forfeit their lives and any chance of mercy. A country with a sufficiently nationalistic populace willing to fight to the last to repel foreign invaders might be able to do so. (Even then, maybe not. None of the Roman fortresses on the Danube fought to the death.) Lotharingia is not that country.

    Many of the soldiers are foreign mercenaries, who are certainly not paid enough to wage a suicidal last stand. The Lotharingian citizenry also are not willing to fight to the death. Morale is low after the news of Wennenden and Mulhouse. Albrecht’s strategy may have a chance of victory at the end of the struggle, but without the possibility of relief armies anytime soon, it means that those who oppose the Triunes now, while the Triunes are fresh, are doomed. Nobody wants to get in line to be decapitated on the grounds that after cutting through enough necks, the blade will eventually be made dull.

    The Lotharingian citizenry would rather try and come to terms with the Triunes, to live their lives rather than throw them away to avert what seems inevitable anyway. Henri II has Triune presses busy making pamphlets and posters promising good treatment for Lotharingian settlements that surrender on demand. Local rights and privileges will be upheld and the right of Catholics to worship will be respected.

    Another factor encouraging Lotharingians to not resist is that Bohmanism has been making impressive inroads in the last few decades. Corruption in the Catholic Church and disgust for the Inquisition have caused some to turn away. The literate and educated burghers of the port cities also are attracted to the Bohmanist doctrine of having the Scriptures in the vernacular and greater participation of the laity in the service, including communion. All this means that the religious distinction, which would’ve been the most effective tool by far of encouraging the Lotharingians to distinguish themselves from the Triunes, is gutted.

    The result is that for all the Lotharingian fortresses, there are no epic sieges. There are many sieges-no mercenary garrison commander wants ‘surrenders fortress immediately’ on his work history-but for Vauban they are tedious but guaranteed affairs, something that must be done but not a task that is particularly strenuous. He writes: “On average, each Lotharingian siege lasts a month, at which time the works have progressed to a point that the garrison commander feels he can surrender with honor without undue damage to his reputation. Each siege thereby consumes about the same amount of time and shot, or sometimes somewhat less, as that of the typical Greek Danube fort, despite the latter being of inferior construction. If each Lotharingian fort had been defended by a garrison comparable in determination to those Greek garrisons instead, each work would’ve taken at least half as much again, perhaps double, the cost in time, shot, and blood then was the case in actuality.”

    Another factor reducing the tendency of Lotharingian mercenary garrisons to resist heartily is that many, after surrender, promptly take up service in Triune armies. In the mercenary market by this time it is considered poor form to surrender and then promptly take service against one’s former paymaster. While common soldiers are too low on the social scale to be able to be picky, mercenary officers are often poor minor nobility who have reputations to protect even in their profession. As it is often expressed, of course a mercenary commander can be bought, but a good mercenary commander is one who is honest enough to stay bought.

    This scruple is not a problem for Henri II. Those Lotharingian mercenaries can simply be posted on the Upper Rhine where they’ll be facing Germans, not Lotharingians, which frees up Triune soldiers there who can be used to reinforce the push into Lotharingia.

    A more pugnacious attitude is present in the Lotharingian navy. This is not a case of nativist fleet versus mercenary army; the proportion of foreign-born to Lotharingian natives is even higher than in the army. Scandinavians and Germans are the most common sources but practically all of Europe is represented somewhere in the Lotharingian navy rolls. The captain of a Lotharingian fifth-rater is a native of Monemvasia.

    The army is defeatist because without substantial allied support, the contest against the Triunes seem hopeless. Between the Eternal War and the first years of the War of the Roman Succession, the Roman Empire, through a series of logistical, administrative, and financial reforms, drastically increased the amount of military force it could bring to bear on opponents. The Triple Monarchy had undergone a similar process after the Second Rhine War; the armies dispatched east in the 1630s (not all at the Lotharingians) were 3-4 times larger than those of the 1610s. In contrast, the Lotharingian field army of 1635 is only one-quarter larger than that of 1615, although there are more fort garrisons as well.

    The navy is more pugnacious simply because the odds are not so hideously stacked against it. The Lotharingian navy is comparable in size to the Triunes and has many capable and aggressive officers eager for a scrap and well able to wage successful ones. Operations in the Caribbean generally favor the Lotharingians, although not enough to make for a decisive advantage until both sides’ efforts collapse under a pile of disease corpses. Fighting in the east is an overwhelming Lotharingian victory, with Triune shipping east of Pegu practically disappearing and the Lotharingians trying to convince the Vijayanagara to provide an army for a joint attack on Triune Bengal by 1638.

    The real naval contest though will be decided in the waters of the English Channel and North Sea. Lotharingian privateers snap up Triune commerce but the Triunes are well placed to do the same and it is the task of the Lotharingian fleet to stop them. Great merchant convoys from the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and the East are vital for the Lotharingian economy and war effort. Not only do they provide important supplies and funds, the convoys are mainstays for most burghers’ financial success. If the Lotharingian state is unable to protect them against Triune attack, the burghers, for the sake of their pocketbooks, would rather cut some sort of deal with the Triunes.

    The fighting in 1635-36 is a mixed bag, both sides racking up victories and defeats, but none are anywhere close to decisive. The most hurtful blow to either side is in late 1636 when a Lotharingian convoy of merchantmen from the Mediterranean loops north around the British Isles to avoid the Triune fleet, running instead into a brutal storm that smashes it to pieces around Scotland. After that it is decided that it would be preferable for convoys to force the Channel escorted by the Lotharingian fleet.

    The Triune admiralty has been working to find a way to score a more decisive victory; the more tangible accolades won by the army are embarrassing and the Emperor is starting to make disgruntled noises about a lack of return on his investments in naval works. The battles thus far have been free-wheeling naval melees, giant brawls on the water. These fluid disorderly engagements favor individual initiative, seamanship, and ship-handling, factors that lean Lotharingian. The Triunes want a battle that will favor their strength, the average larger size and firepower of their warships. Their solution is both simple and brilliant.

    In July 1637 the Lotharingian fleet is escorting another large merchant convoy through the Channel when it is challenged by the Triune fleet off Wissant. This has happened many times before and the Lotharingians expect the same drill. The two fleets will pile into each other and slug it out for a while, with one side perhaps gaining a bit of the upper hand, but the battle breaking off before that becomes too noticeable. And while the Triune fleet is occupied, the convoy makes a clean getaway to Lotharingian harbors.

    This time the story is different. The Triune fleet forms into a massive line-of-battle, confusing the Lotharingians who nevertheless pitch into the fray with their usual fervor. But the newfound control and concentration of the Triunes, combined with the immense firepower at their disposal (the seven Triune first-raters alone have more firepower than the combined Roman field armies at Thessaloniki), is utterly devastating. Out of 89 Lotharingian warships [1], twenty six are sent to the bottom by Triune gunnery or captured, with practically the rest of the fleet badly shot up.

    The disadvantage of the line-of-battle shows as the remaining three-quarters of the Lotharingian fleet, despite its battered state, is able to make a clean getaway along with the convoy which doesn’t lose a single merchantmen. But Wissant is nevertheless an utterly crushing Triune victory. Many Triune ships are also shot up but only two of 90 were lost (although one is a second-rater that got burned down by a fire-ship); the post-Wissant Triune fleet is in a much better place for combat than the gutted Lotharingians. After Wissant the Triunes are able, for the first time in the war, to impose a credible blockade on the Lotharingian coast. Aside from hurting the Lotharingians, this helps the Triunes to start getting a handle on the privateer problem.

    Even if the Lotharingian fleet put back out to sea, after Wissant it would now face a substantial numerical disadvantage. Furthermore while the Lotharingians could copy the line-of-battle tactic, which is not complicated, their smaller ships are just at a disadvantage in such a toe-to-toe slugging match. The shallow waters of the Lotharingian coast just do not favor the construction of big second and first-raters, which are what are needed to counter the Triune models.

    That is assuming the Lotharingians even got time to build them. In August 1637, Vauban begins closing in on Antwerp, the Lotharingian capital, after having cleared the outlying forts. The Lotharingian field army, for the first time in the war, tries a contest in the open to stop a siege of Antwerp. Despite being renowned as a siege and not a field commander, Vauban mauls the Lotharingians, but he did have a 2-to-1 numerical advantage in all categories. King Albrecht, seeing no hope, decides to sue for peace while he still holds some cards.

    The resulting Treaty of Antwerp is a spectacular triumph for the Triple Monarchy. Every bit of Lotharingian territory on the left side of the Rhine is ceded to the Triunes, a huge swathe of rich territory from Flanders to Lorraine. From the Rhine Delta to Mulhouse, the only lord of the left bank of the Rhine is Henri II.

    The conquered territories, along with the sequestered lands of the Bishops of Metz, Toul, Verdun, and Liege, are all incorporated into the holdings of the Kingdom of France. (As the chief center of armaments manufacture in Western Europe, Liege is a particular prize.) Several of them, such as Flanders, have historical ties to France, with the rest making for administrative convenience. Henri promises to respect local rights and privileges as well as freedom for Catholics to worship privately and in small churches, although the big cathedrals are taken for Bohmanist use.

    All this is reluctantly but officially recognized by the Spanish and Arletians, who at this time are trying to add Henri II to the potential coalition against Rhomania in Italy. The Spanish and Arletians can do nothing to stop this Triune coup anyway, and in late 1637 their concern is stopping the Romans from pulling a comparable coup in Italy where the Spanish and Arletians can do something. A Triune conquest of the Rhineland and a Roman conquest of Italy are equally destabilizing hammer blows to the current balance of power and the later can still be prevented. Furthermore while the Triunes can be used to counteract the Romans, the last time the Romans got involved in the Rhineland, they ended up massively helping the Triunes.

    Albrecht III still has his crown, retreating to his holdings on the right bank of the Rhine. They are still respectable in size, but definitely a poor cousin to the lands he lost. His new capital of Amsterdam is described as a ‘moderately prosperous cheese-port’, a far cry from Antwerp, one of the three great marts of Christendom alongside Lisbon and Constantinople. Furthermore he is now a vassal of the Triune Emperor, Henri II.

    He does get a few concessions. While the 8 largest Lotharingian warships are signed over to Triune control, Albrecht keeps the rest of his fleet. Furthermore it is decreed that any Lotharingian merchants who wish to change their base of operations from Triune Lotharingia to Lotharingia can do so within the next year without paying any charges or tariffs. This is less helpful to Albrecht than it sounds as many merchants, wanting access to the Rhineland trade and the huge Triune market, stay where they are. Antwerp still needs to be fed with Baltic rye, after all, and Liege guns still need to be exported to buyers.

    The one exception are those active in Island Asia. Henri agrees to recognize all of the Lotharingian successes over Triunes there, reasoning that he needs to give some sugar to Albrecht to go with the bitter swallow. Furthermore, like most Triunes not actively involved with business in Island Asia, Henri II doesn’t see much in it. Triune Bengal is far more impressive and profitable, so a few trading posts on some islands further east seem like little loss.

    The Lotharingians though are giddy with this concession and the merchants who trade in the East move their base of operations promptly to Amsterdam. Bengal produces many goods in demand in Island Asia but since the Triunes have no posts there they can’t sell them. The Lotharingians fill the niche, taking Bengali textiles to Mataram and trading them for pepper. They then either ship the pepper to Europe (and probably sell it to the Triunes) or take it to Pyrgos and trade for Chinese porcelain, silk, and tea, and then ship those to Europe and sell it to the Triunes.

    Henri II is unaware of those implications, which don’t become clear for several years anyway. Even with some of the eastern trade diverted to Amsterdam, Antwerp is still a far bigger and bustling port, so it’s doubtful he’d be bothered anyway. Compared to his gains, it’s a minor loss. Europe is like the east. In the eastern trade, long-distance shipment of spices dominate the attention of moderns, but it is the local carrying trade that is the real money-maker. In Europe the shipment of humble goods, timber, metals, fish, grains, and the like, get far less attention from moderns than traffic in goods more shiny, but like the east, these simple trades and traders are the bedrock of commerce. No starving man ever bought a silk shirt.

    The Treaty of Antwerp exemplifies Henri’s aims at this time. He wants direct control of everything west of the Rhine. However on the east bank, to secure his conquests, he wants a series of vassal buffer states. With Lotharingia, it is fairly easy; there is only one prince with which he must deal (the bishops are too weak to matter). The Holy Roman Empire on the other hand promises to be far more complicated.

    [1] At this time, ships that just a few years later would be considered too small for the battle-line are still used in the melee.
     
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    Look to the West: What is Learned in the End
  • Posting a day early because of the holidays.

    Look to the West: What is Learned in the End

    The Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of 1636 was, to use a technical term, a hot mess. Its military power had been smashed, its political leadership was suffering a massive crisis of legitimacy, and the overstrained economy was in complete collapse. What had been arguably the dominant power player in Christendom a decade earlier had transformed into a power vacuum in which other power players fished.

    An angler conspicuous for its absence was the Roman Empire, ironic considering it was they who’d created the power vacuum in the first place. There are several reasons for this. The Roman withdrawal from European affairs, particularly after its poor handling of Italy, to focus on Asia as well as its own economic problems starting in late 1638 are the main ones. These partially explain Roman actions (or lack thereof) regarding Europe, but considering the political chaos and vacuum in Germany, even these are not enough to explain Roman absence. Between the Treaty of Buda that ended the war between the Romans and the Wittelsbachs and the Treaty of Westphalia which finally settles all the dust kicked up in Central Europe, the Prussians are a more important player than the Romans. (There is one brief moment where the Romans are active, but their presence is extremely minimal, the contribution not one that only the Romans could’ve provided, and even then the Roman activity was minimized even as it was happening.)

    Despite its commitments, distractions, and economic issues Rhomania had the forces to intervene in Germany in the late 1630s and 40s. In the short term militarily Rhomania may even have enjoyed some success from local tactical superiority. However in the long-term, in the form of achieving political and diplomatic goals, any Roman intervention would’ve been doomed to be a failure. Demetrios III recognized this; according to Athena, one of the last pieces of political advice her father gave was ‘never get involved in the German lands’.

    Demetrios III was a writer, so he knew that the most important part of the story is the ending. After that the most important is the beginning. The middle, in contrast, is the part that most people forget (jokes about middle children also aim at the same concept). As shown by his writings in The Wars of Latin Aggression, he had wanted the war to ‘tell a story’, delivering a historical message for the Latins. However this ran into the issue that what the teacher teaches is not necessarily what the student learns. The Latins got a message from the war story, but it wasn’t exactly what Demetrios III had in mind.

    The battle of Thessaloniki had been meant to be the message, a message that the Romans were intimidatingly strong and powerful and that facing them in battle meant destruction, meaning that as a matter of survival leaving them alone was for the best. However Thessaloniki was not the end of the story; it ended up being in the middle of the story, and thereby overshadowed by the actual end of the story, the part that created the message the Germans heard and remembered.

    The end of the story was the ravages of the 1635 campaign in southern Germany that culminated in the massacre at Ulm and the battle of Wennenden. These had been brutal and cruel, but that the Germans understand and accept. It was war, and the Germans, while favoring their side, acknowledge that it was Theodor, not Demetrios III, that started the fighting. What the Germans do not understand and do not accept is that the brutality and cruelty had been completely and utterly pointless.

    This is in contrast to the suffering inflicted on the German countryside in the 1634 raid. That had a military purpose, to damage the reinforcement base for the Germany army in Macedonia/Bulgaria and perhaps even draw part of said army away to defend Bavaria. But the 1635 campaign had been strategically bankrupt. The peace terms of the Treaty of Buda in early 1636 could’ve been gained a year earlier by the Romans. There was no strategic need for the whole campaign, and the Germans know it.

    The Romans had reasons for fighting on and fighting the way they did in 1635. The reasons were retributions for the devastation in Bulgaria and Macedonia, or to put fear in the heart of the Germans, or as recompense for previous Latin attacks on Rhomania. The Germans may not be aware of these reasons. Or, more probably, they are aware of those reasons and just don’t care. After all, they are not obligated to take the Romans’ arguments as writ. That the Romans have reasons for what they do does not mean those reasons are justified or right. War is an activity to fulfill political goals with military means; at least that is what it is supposed to be, not breaking things and killing people just for the sake of breaking things and killing people.

    Another point underlines how the Germans view 1635 differently from the German depredations in Bulgaria and Macedonia and the Roman raid in 1634. Both had been cruel and brutal, but those had been side effects of military objectives, either the need to secure supplies in the former or to damage the resource base of the enemy in the latter. Cruelty had been a means, not an end. But in 1635, Roman cruelty had not been a means. It had been the ends. The cruelty was the point. What the Romans did in 1635 was not war, but savagery.

    That is the end of the story. That is what the Germans remember. Not the great battle and clash of arms that was Thessaloniki. That is forgotten in the pointless butchery of Ulm, of the thousands dying for no other reason than Roman bloodlust. German children had been murdered for literally no other reason than that the Romans wanted to murder them. Thessaloniki might’ve taught the Germans to fear the Romans, but Ulm does not.

    Ulm teaches the Germans to despise the Romans.

    As early as mid-1636 the song is making the rounds across Germany. Even as Triune armies march across the Rhine, the arch-fiend is the Greek.

    ‘Sleep, my child, don’t cry,
    The Greek’s going by,
    He killed your father at his door,
    He made your wretched mother poor,
    Keep very still, if you’d be wise,
    Or he’ll find ways to shut your eyes.
    Sleep, my child, don’t cry,
    The Greek’s going by.’ [1]

    Some Romans, both then and now, have protested at the prioritization. After all, focusing on the Romans when the Triunes are actively in the process of invading German lands does seem rather unfair. However the behavior of Triune armies in Germany is, to be blunt, overwhelmingly better than that of Roman armies. While invading armies are never tidy and cannot help but make a mess, it is clear Triune commanders and officers work to minimize it. Supplies are requisitioned but they are at least paid for (provided they are presented upon demand). Triune soldiers commit outrages and crimes, but if a Triune soldier rapes a German, odds are he is soon hung from the nearest tree.

    The same could hardly said for Roman soldiers when they were in Germany. An intensive historical study of the period later determined that if one was a German peasant in the 1630s and a foreign army invaded your district, statistically your odds of getting murdered are seven times higher if the army is Roman instead of Triune. In that case, who really is the enemy of the German people?

    Some have pointed out that for a variety of factors Triune behavior in Germany in the 1640s deteriorates from the standard of the mid-1630s, which are the basis of comparison with the Roman army. However the 1640s were climatically far more severe than the 1630s, seriously damaging logistics, so a comparison between Triunes then and the Romans in the more benign 1630s is not a fair analysis. Furthermore, even if one did so, the Triunes still come out looking better, albeit not to the extent of the 1630s comparison.

    That is why any Roman intervention in Germany would inevitably be a failure, regardless of any short-term accomplishments. The Romans could not impose their will by force alone; all conquerors need at least some collaborators. But any prince willing to collaborate with the Romans, by the very act of doing so, would forfeit all legitimacy in the eyes of the German elites and intelligentsia, and the princes would know that. Furthermore a Roman intervention would immediately rally the German princes to the banner of Henri II, as the only sovereign able to defend them against a renewed onslaught of the Butchers of Ulm.

    As early as 1638 words are being spoken about striking against the Romans. The allied intervention in Italy in 1638 is viewed as an ideal moment to destroy the base from which the Romans initially launched their assault on Germany. A pan-German crusade against the Butchers of Ulm would be, it is argued by Manfred von Nimitz, the German noble and philosopher, an ideal way to forge German unity, a prerequisite for then pushing back the Triunes. Nothing comes of this proposal in 1638 because Germany lacks the means, but a lot of Germans think von Nimitz is on to something.

    Considering German attitudes, it was a good thing for peace that Rhomania withdrew from Salzburg and northern Italy (minus the Venetian lagoon). If the Romans remained there, it seems inevitable that there would have been war once the Germans renewed their strength.

    In the Treaty of Belgrade, the Romans put a two thousand strong garrison in Vienna as part of the defense of Hungarian-ruled Austria. In 1641 the Hungarians request the removal of this garrison, a request granted by the Romans partly because that eliminates an extra expense but also because of the need to win Hungarian goodwill after favoring the Vlachs in various disputes regarding the Székelys. The Hungarians want the Romans gone because by simply having the Roman garrison there, they are de-legitimizing Hungarian rule in Vienna and Austria in the eyes of the Viennese, Austrians, and all of Germany. As early as 1641 it is clear that having a Roman garrison in Vienna, rather than deterring a German attack, is actually encouraging one. The Germans may lack the strength to launch said attack now, but best to get rid of the provocation sooner rather than later.

    That same year Manfred von Nimitz returns to the theme of a pan-German crusade against the Butchers of Ulm. He doesn’t want a straight repeat of Theodor. But he has found a way to pursue his strategy but without his shortcomings. He has little animus for the Hungarians, even though they switched sides at Thessaloniki. That is in the middle of the story, the part that is most easily forgotten. The memory of Ulm puts that into the shade.

    Furthermore, despite all the bloody history, it is a simple fact that the Hungarians have more in common with the Germans than the Romans. They are both Catholic, not Orthodox. Culturally and economically, the Hungarians are oriented westward, not to the southeast. The provisions of the 1634 Treaty of Belgrade encouraging trade down the Danube are not nearly enough to change that. The inclusion of Austria within the Hungarian framework is also a massive pull westward, which makes Germany even more proximate in contrast to Rhomania which doesn’t even share a land border with Hungary. (The closest Roman post is the citadel of Belgrade, ‘leased’ from the Serbs. The Serbs, for their part, view the presence of the Roman ‘renters’ as a national humiliation and insult, one they swallow only so long as they must.)

    Von Nimitz also supports winning over the Vlachs, ‘most of whom are bent to the yoke feeding the insatiable appetite of Constantinople’. He doesn’t believe in social leveling and is appalled by the Ravens’ Rebellion, but like most of the intelligentsia of Christendom, he found the imposition of second serfdom in Vlachia also appalling. In von Nimitz’s mind having nobles and peasants is the natural order, but degrading the peasantry to such a level not only degrades the peasant but also the noble whose mind is twisted by the relationship. One can just look at the slave-owners in the Caribbean as another example. Even the most Romanophile intellectual found the Roman government’s involvement in the imposition of Vlach second serfdom to be outrageous.

    Finally he favors getting the support of the Russians. In his treatise to them he writes: ‘To those who live in the forests and frozen wastes of the north, you are indeed made safe by distance and climate. But your brothers to the south are not so fortunate. The farmers of Scythia provide grain for Constantinople as do the wretches of Vlachia. The terrible fate that befell the Vlachs may yet come to the Scythians if the danger is not driven back.’ It’s doubtful many Russians read von Nimitz’s work but he did speak to the fears of many in southern Russia who had seen what had transpired in Vlachia and wanted nothing to do with it.

    Von Nimitz would not see a pan-German crusade against the Romans; the Germans lacked the strength to wage one, much as he and others wished otherwise. But his attitude, coming so quickly after the war, shows that the Germans had not been intimidated. Thessaloniki had been overwritten by Ulm.

    Bardas Amirales, the famous eighteenth century Roman diplomat and diplomatic historian, wrote the following in his work on Roman diplomacy in the mid-1600s. ‘Roman intervention in Germany benefitted neither the Romans nor the Germans. The only ones aided by it were the Triunes. Further intervention on the part of the Romans would only have aided the Triunes more’.

    Bardas further compares Rhomania in the mid and late 1630s as like Sparta after the end of the Peloponnesian War. After a long and brutal and costly conflict, Sparta had emerged victorious and was in a position to possibly establish a hegemony over Hellas. The Spartans proceeded to waste that opportunity through arrogance and heavy-handedness, alienating former and potential allies. Despite efforts to restore it, that opportunity, once wasted, would never return.

    After the battle of Thessaloniki, Rhomania was well-placed as the most powerful state in Christendom to set a post-war arrangement as it saw fit. But like Sparta in 400 BCE, while it was (momentarily) the greatest power, it was not the only great power. It could not dictate and expect to be obeyed; it was not that dominant. In 1635 the Romans seized Genoa and butchered Ulm. Both actions stirred up opposition to the Romans, opposition that could’ve been avoided.

    By stirring up that opposition, Rhomania’s window of opportunity of hegemony was closed. It would not come again. Rhomania would be an important player in deciding the future of post-war Italy, but Rhomania was one of the players, not the game master. In Germany the picture was quite different, and far less accommodating to Roman pride. In the great Westphalian settlement that would end the fighting, the Romans would have absolutely no say in the proceedings. They would not even be invited.


    [1] From OTL, a song from Baden regarding the harsh Prussian repression of the Revolution of 1848-49. Replace ‘Greek’ with ‘Prussian’. See 1848: Year of Revolution by Mike Rapport, pg. 347.
     
    Look to the West: To Rule in Germany
  • Look to the West: To Rule in Germany

    The Triune advance into Lotharingia succeeded because while it faced centralized opposition, said opposition was defeatist and low in morale. In contrast, after seizing the west bank of the Rhine and pushing across the great river, the Triunes face relatively little opposition at all. The foes of western Germany that might’ve opposed them were shattered at Wennenden, and no German prince has been able to put the pieces back together again. The main issue facing the Triunes east of the Rhine in the late 1630s are logistical support and keeping discipline amongst the troops so as to not alienate the locals.

    This is, somewhat paradoxically, a problem for Henri II. His desired goal is a setup similar to that imposed on Lotharingia: complete Triune control to the Rhine River with buffer satellite states on the east bank. However nature abhors a vacuum, and the vacuum of power in central Europe creates a suction effect, making it hard for the Triunes to stop even when Henri II would wish to stop. Furthermore the fragmentation of power and de-legitimization of the major power brokers who could force a comprehensive peace settlement makes it difficult to acquire a peace. With Lotharingia, Henri II needed to talk to Albrecht III and only Albrecht III. Germany is proving vastly more complicated. In retrospect, from Henri II’s point-of-view, the 1630s have done a little too good of a job in destabilizing the Holy Roman Empire.

    The main power in the Holy Roman Empire is Ottokar. In 1638 he can field, for offensive purposes, an army of 25000 infantry and 6000 cavalry, backed up by a capable and skilled field artillery train. The army is well equipped and uniformed in white coats for the foot, blue coats for the light cavalry, and green coats for the heavy cavalry. This is made possible by Silesia, one of the largest centers of production for weapons, armor, and textiles in all of Christendom. Thanks in large part to Silesia, the Bohemian economy is in relatively good shape, especially compared to its neighbors. Theodor was not able to bully Ottokar into providing loans for the Wittelsbach war effort that will never be repaid so even with ransoming his army from the Romans, Ottokar still has some coin and with the Silesian economy backing him he still has credit for loans.

    That army is nowhere near enough to go toe-to-toe with the Triune field armies, which combined are nearly an order-of-magnitude bigger. But while Ottokar can’t go on the offensive against the Triunes, he is well-placed to defend himself, because notably Bohemia is on the east end of the Holy Roman Empire. The Triunes might be able to logistically support a lunge at Prague, but the key phrase is ‘might be able’. While supporting the lunge, they would have to fight through the Bohemian Forest (despite the name it’s a mountain range) where Ottokar could meet the tired and overstretched Triunes with his own field army, supported by local militias and new Polish and Hungarian allies who’ve pledged to help defend Bohemia if it is invaded by an aggressor (left unspecified but everyone but the village idiot, and probably even he as well, knows it’s referring to Henri II). In short, unlike Albrecht III, Ottokar is in relatively little (although still some) danger of Henri II toppling him off his royal throne.

    Toppling him off his royal throne, that is. The Imperial one is much more questionable. Ottokar’s respectable power base is entirely dependent on him being King of Bohemia. Being Holy Roman Emperor is entirely a paper crown. The Polish and Hungarian alliances are only pledged to defend the Kingdom of Bohemia, not to support his authority as Holy Roman Emperor. This is even with the King of Hungary who, as King of Austria as well, is one of the Princes of the Empire.

    Ottokar’s legitimacy as Holy Roman Emperor is shaky. Yes, he was elected by the Imperial College, but Theodor, while insane, is very much alive, and so long as he breathes there is a question mark over Ottokar’s authority. Furthermore, despite Bohemia’s long association with the Empire, Ottokar is definitely a Bohemian (the name is a clue), and that is something that is starting to bother the German princes. After being butchered by Greeks and threatened by more foreigners in the form of Triunes and Scandinavians, said princes aren’t enamored with an overlord who seems somewhat foreign himself.

    Despite this, the title of Holy Roman Emperor means a great deal to Ottokar. He did not take the title to see it turn to ash. For that reason he does not wish to sign over vast swaths to Triune control. It would diminish what he has gained. Furthermore to give up so much would be a devastating blow to his legitimacy and possibly cost him the Imperial crown, which he finds unacceptable.

    That is the source of the impasse. Ottokar is willing to concede the west bank of the Rhine; that is clearly indefensible and he has to give up something. But beyond that he is not willing to go. That is not good enough for Henri. He has no interest in direct control of German lands east of the Rhine, but he wants to set up a series of vassal states (compositions and extents undetermined) to guard his eastern frontier. In addition, there is the question of compensatory lands for the west-side princes east of the Rhine. Henri wants to have a say in the determination, while Ottokar wants to decide the question himself in consultation with the appropriate princes, no Triunes present.

    Triune armies crossing the Rhine fan out across the countryside, securing it. Their progress is slow to ensure that logistics hold up and for the same reason the troops are spread out, garrisoning key points. Ottokar doesn’t attack them for fear of making the war hot, while the few locals who do resist are quickly swept aside. Ottokar’s hopes are that the extended occupation will drain Henri’s resources and make him more conciliatory. Henri meanwhile takes the opportunity to do some reorganizing of the lands his soldiers occupy while the dispossessed princes put pressure on Ottokar to do something, either with the pen or the sword. By early 1639 the impasse has not yet broken, but with the victory over Lotharingia it seems almost certain that Ottokar will have to give way first. He lacks the resources for another, more active strategy.

    Germany is in little position to help. The economy is in tatters, with vast loans paid to the Wittelsbachs that will never be repaid. The lack of capital stalls commerce, throwing artisans out of work through lack of paying customers. Getting new loans are impossible while efforts to raise taxes are political slug-fests. Budget shortfalls need to be made good but raising taxes on already struggling businesses hardly helps. Furthermore there are rows about the issue of tax exemptions, since many groups are exempt or pay reduced dues on various taxes, increasing the burden on everyone else. Naturally those with entrenched interests are not willing to give them up for the common good. The smaller states, with the exception of the big Free Cities, are the most affected, but practically all of the princely states suffer these issues to some extent.

    The most movement is in the north, where the aggressor against the Holy Roman Empire is Peter II of Scandinavia, brother-in-law to Henri II (Peter is married to Henri’s sister) and a decidedly less formidable opponent. While Peter has overrun Schleswig-Holstein and some more territory further south, the stubborn resistance of the great cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lubeck, backed by the Pomeranians, has stalled further advance.

    By 1638 some of the economic crises in the larger states of eastern Germany have declined a bit, helped by 1637 being a decent harvest. Thus Ottokar is prepared to be bolder. A Bohemian army, reinforced by contingents from Saxony (where Ottokar is now Duke), Brandenburg, and Pomerania, attack the Scandinavians at their siege of Bremen. The Scandinavians are utterly routed and sent flying back into Holstein.

    Further pursuit is impossible because word then arrives that Henri II, in response to the defeat of Peter II, has sent an army to attack Bremen. The Bohemians wheel back south and the two armies face off against each other for a fortnight before the Triunes withdraw. Henri didn’t want a costly battle, even if it was a victory, just to draw away the Bohemians. At the same time Triune forces march into Wurzburg and western Bavaria. They withdraw after a few weeks, extracting contributions from the countryside. These were not offensives, just demonstrations, but Ottokar catches the point. Although he has the strength to pummel the Scandinavians, he can’t actually do so without the Triunes coming and sideswiping him.

    Despite this, Ottokar does manage to score another win against the Scandinavians, sponsoring and supplying a revolt of the Dithmarschen. They successfully expel the Scandinavian occupiers and re-establish their peasant republic in their North Sea marsh homeland, which had been destroyed by the Scandinavians (after multiple failed attempts) in 1605. His patronage of the Dithmarschen is an interesting note at this time, especially since the 1638 campaign against the Scandinavians deliberately involves Ottokar avoiding doing anything about the Ravens’ Rebellion.

    This is not because he has sympathy for peasant uprisings. Rare would be the monarch that did. However the Dithmarschen have history and precedent behind them. The Ravens’ Rebellion doesn’t have that, but it is a hornet’s nest. As Ottokar crudely puts it “let Henri deal with a group of birds that is called a murder and get bit in the cock for his trouble. I could use the entertainment.”
     
    Look to the West: The Ravens' Rebellion Part 1
  • I don't expect Theodor to survive for much longer, especially if Ottokar finds out about his existence and needs him killed to secure further legitimacy as the Emperor. Alternatively, it would be interesting if Henri or even D3 discovers him. Even an insane vegetable can potentially be a dangerous tool at the hands of these men or at least a sick form of entertainment (Theodor being found by D3 would be a pretty bad ending for him, as I'm sure that he'll end up being a Crassus or a Valerian).

    It's also possible that he just keels over and dies, which is probably the likeliest outcome. An undignified death for the man that desired the entire world.


    The fact that the Wu are mostly located in New South Wales / Victoria is practically the worst case scenario for every European colonist that's trying to set up shop in Australia. It's the region that has the most agricultural value on the continent for growing cities (And the climate is good for the cultivation of both rice and wheat) and it's populated by hordes of people that mostly resistant/immune to Old World diseases and capable of running cavalry or even gunpowder due to trade with Nusantara or by utilizing stolen European weapons.

    When the British made landfall in NSW/Victoria, disease had practically made the region barren and empty since it killed most of the native population. Here, resistance would be fierce and brutal once hostilities between the Wu/Aboriginals and the Europeans begin. It'd sour any imperialist ambitions on the continent pretty quick once they find out a Wu warlord or confederacy massacred entire settlements within a short time frame.

    It probably lends more credence to an independent native Australia at least until the Industrial Revolution comes around, which could tip the balance towards the Europeans, although political reasons or perceptions towards Australia being a hellhole might still prevent the Europeans from making the first step towards outright settlement.

    Also, I thought that the Wu had merged with the native Aboriginals already (at least around Northern Australia and NSW/Victoria), which is why I assumed that the Aboriginals would mostly be a farming society with the exception of the desert tribes. Seems like they remain mostly separated (although some interbreeding might still occur), and the trends are reversed, as a Wu dominated Australia is likely within a century or two with the majority of Aboriginals being absorbed into this new ethnic group, which is kinda sad.

    Regardless, the Wu's negative impact on Australia thanks to the spread of Old World agriculture is as destructive as I expected. The result of this is how Australia will look to Europeans once they reach further inland. In OTL, the British colonists saw pristine plains and forests thanks to the work of the Aboriginals that carefully modified the entire continent for their use. With the Wu, I could expect the Australian wilderness to be a lot more wild and overgrown with the decline of the Aboriginal population, perhaps even more dangerous than OTL. Not a good sight for any European colonist.

    Everyone knows Theodor is alive. That’s why Ottokar’s legitimacy as HRE is shaky. A lawyer could make a really good case that his accession is illegal. Nobody has chosen to make an issue of it, yet, because Henri is scary, but the possibility is very much there.

    There was some interbreeding between the Wu and aborigines, particularly at the beginning and with the groups around the Xi Wang area. That said, I’m extremely skeptical that the Chinese Wu would’ve been less discriminatory against the aborigines than the British were. On a civilization-ist mindset, the aborigines score very low.

    Don’t know what’s in store for Australia, but right now I am interested in the Wu expansion. The Wu are an island of agricultural villages in a sea of hunter-gatherers, so their expansion is a possible mirror of the prehistoric growth of agricultural communities, but taking place in a time when the process might be recorded in writing. Anthropologists interested in the period of time between the development of agriculture and the invention of writing would be extremely interested in this case study.

    * * *

    Look to the West: The Ravens' Rebellion, Part 1

    [1] “The glory of the noble is built upon the sweat and blood of the peasant” is one of the many famous quotes attributed to Johann Eck. The great and powerful hosts that had marshalled forth out of the Holy Roman Empire in the early 1630s had not come cheap. While they might not have had to provide much money (because they didn’t have much), the peasants had had to support those hosts with mass requisitions of foodstuffs, animals, and levies of their menfolk. The price had been high.

    That peasants pay for the luxuries and vanities of the nobility is hardly new in the 1630s. Peasant uprisings, or at least discontent in the form of ‘rebellions of the weak’ (feigned ignorance, work slowdowns, ‘accidental’ breakings of equipment, etc.), are commonplace. The Ravens’ Rebellion started out as just another of these peasant uprisings, of which medieval history records many. The peasants rose up against what they considered to be intolerable and unsupportable demands, harkening back to a perceived better age in the past, in this case to the legend of the King under the Mountain, reportedly either Frederick I or Frederick II Hohenstaufen, depending on the version.

    There are a couple of key reasons why the Ravens’ Rebellion stands out from the crowd. The most obvious one is that for size and duration it has few equals. Most uprisings are localized and quickly ended, either through repression or compromise (the latter is more common than might be expected; oftentimes magistrates find the peasants’ grievances to be justifiable). Neither description applies to the Ravens’ Rebellion. The other key reason is that it occurs during an era of print, which rapidly spreads both news about and the message of the Ravens’ Rebellion, spurred by Johann Eck, who is very skilled at utilizing the medium to spread the word.

    The Ravens’ Rebellion begins in northern Bavaria with its official start noted in early 1636. In 1635 Friedrich Zimmermann had organized the defense of the region against Roman raiders using peasant recruits he trained and drilled, equipping them mostly with captured Roman kit. He had been extremely successful in that. As is the case whenever any soldier is captured by vengeful peasants, the lucky ones are killed on the spot. The unlucky ones are tortured to death.

    Even if the Roman soldiers refrained from raping and killing (which was not the case), just by taking or burning the grain they are sentencing the peasants’ children to death, for it is the little ones who will starve in the winter when food runs short. The adult workers have to be fed enough to keep up their strength so that more food can be grown when planting comes, lest all starve. So in times of shortage, those least capable of working the fields are the ones that must be sacrificed if the whole are to endure. It is a hard and terrible thing, made all the worse by the fact that while the sacrifice is necessary, the parents still must choose to deprive their youngest children of food in order to save the rest of the family. Why in the world would those same parents show any mercy whatsoever on those soldiers who forced such a tragedy upon them?

    This has nothing to do with a cultural or racial hatred. This is the hatred of long-suffering peasants suffering yet another calamity at the hand of rapacious soldiers, and unlike most disasters hurled upon them this is one the peasants can avenge. If the soldiers were Hungarians or Triunes or Bohemians or even other German-speakers, even other Bavarians, the fates of the captured would be the same. There is no place for mercy here.

    Northern Bavaria had thus defended itself rather well over the course of 1635, notably without any support from Munich despite the taxes and supplies and conscripts sent there over the years. In early 1636 Elizabeth, alarmed at the breakdown of her authority there, demands the resumption of what is owed, as well as arrears. Furthermore to raise more funds for the crisis, taxes are raised. The hikes are across all Wittelsbach lands still answering to her and get blowback from all quarters, but given recent events the backlash is fiercest in northern Bavaria.

    Elizabeth is aware of the danger but feels she has little choice. She needs money and has to get it somewhere, but she is prepared to enforce her will. When Friedrich Zimmermann refuses to stand down and disband his peasant force after blocking tax collectors from entering territory under his protection, she sends a column of 1200 cavalry and 3200 infantry at him. In May 1636 he ambushes and crushes the column.

    The news sends shockwaves throughout all of Germany. Up to now, Zimmermann had not been a big item. Yes, he had beaten off Roman raiders, but those contingents had been measured in dozens, or at most the low hundreds. Here Zimmermann has bested a force an order-of-magnitude bigger than anything he has faced before, and it was a proper combined-arms army too. And he did it with peasant recruits he trained himself with captured weapons.

    The victory emboldens the Three, as they are known, Friedrich Zimmermann, Johann Eck, and Alexios Asanes (who, given the anti-Greek animus in Germany, identifies himself as a Vlach; he has substantial Vlach ancestry). Prior to this they’d done little to change the political or economic landscape under their control save for organizing local resources for defense and ensuring that any surplus stays in the region.

    The framework they seek to create has been described as peasant communalism, although the term well postdates the Three, the goal to create an idealized peasant society. The first step is to seize the land belonging to the rich and redistribute it to the poor landless workers. The argument is that anyone who is willing to work should have enough land to have a reasonable expectation to support himself and his family. (As a peasant, Zimmermann knows there can be no guarantee of such a thing. Early modern farming yields can vary wildly from year to year. But they should have enough whereby an average year can sustain the people in question.)

    This doesn’t spark backlash from the richer peasants because they are not the ones targeted. The landholdings owned directly by the nobility and gentry are what are carved up and redistributed. Also a key factor that must not be ignored is that there is no insistence on land equality. Once everyone has that basic level of landholding guaranteed, surplus ownership is fine. The concerns are that everyone at least has that basic level and that the discrepancy between the smallest and biggest landowners are not too high to ensure that the big landowners do not end up becoming a new nobility and oppressing the smallholders.

    This is wildly popular in the countryside, even with the rich peasants. Enough noble land is sequestered and redistributed so that their holdings are not touched and most of them even gain a little too for their troubles. Furthermore with the destruction of the local notables, the ‘big peasants’ are now the top dogs in their local area. They too have felt the annoyance of being forced to use the noble’s mill or being insulted and degraded by the estate’s bailiff. The main issue from their perspective is the elimination of the poor landless laborer, an important source of labor during peak-labor demand times like the harvests. However the base land allotments are small enough that to bolster their income the smallholders still look to the richer peasant holdings for supplementary work.

    Much more pushback comes from the towns, particularly when Zimmermann starts implementing his new changes regarding bankruptcy. In bad times, peasants have been forced to get loans from the merchants and moneylenders in the towns, and since the times have been bad many loans have been made. And since the times have remained bad, those loans have not been repaid. Those peasant soldiers Zimmermann recruited couldn’t work their farms when they were killing Roman raiders after all.

    With loans coming due, the moneylenders want their money, and if that’s not available then they’ll take the land instead. In early 1636 Zimmermann hasn’t done anything particularly radical other than keep law and order using local resources, so the moneylenders think business is usual. They send agents to collect the money, or the land as the case may be. Zimmermann’s opinion of the matter is made quite clear when his soldiers thrash the agents and send them packing, then declaring a general debt wipeout.

    There is more behind this than just a frustration at these particular debts. It is an expression of general peasant hatred for the growing market economy which is undermining the well-being of all but the richest and most successful peasant farmers. Peasant agriculture is overwhelmingly subsistence agriculture; the concern is producing enough food to feed the peasant and his family, not for producing for the market. Sometimes surpluses are produced, but those often don’t go to the market either but remain in the village to provide feasts and gifts and connections with other local peasant farmers.

    Many outsiders, both then and now, characterize this as peasant wastefulness and short-sightedness, gorging on their surplus rather than selling it. It is not. The peasant’s most reliable social safety net is his fellow peasants. While universal disasters that smash everyone do happen, most hammer blows hit randomly. Some peasants are hit hard, while their neighbors are spared. A sudden frost kills Peasant A’s crops, but Peasant B’s field in an adjacent but different microclimate comes through fine. Peasants survive by supporting each other. In the above case, B supports A with his surplus, with the understanding that when the shoe is on the other foot, A will come and bail him out. That is how peasants operate and survive. The coin made from selling the surplus grain may not be worth it if the opportunity cost is maintaining those bonds of camaraderie and reciprocity with the neighbors.

    With the expansions of the market and monetary networks, more peasants do get into the market and produce for surplus to sell. But that comes with a danger. Many earlier peasant holdings are scattered across the landscape, to access different microclimates and produce different crops. The produce of each holding is small, but it avoids the risk of putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. Yet while it reduces the risk of a total failure, it is inefficient from a labor standard and makes it hard to produce a surplus, so those producing for the market focus on concentrated holdings and 1-2 crops. What they no longer produce for themselves, they’ll purchase with the money from the surplus.

    However when (and it is a question of when, not if) there is a crop failure, these ‘market peasants’ have little to fall back upon. They don’t have extra holdings that didn’t fail because they concentrated all their eggs into a profitable but fragile basket. Their reciprocal connections with other peasants are weakened because they’ve neglected those for the sake of the market sales. So they have to turn to the moneylender, who is happy to oblige. However in the event of a failure to repay, the moneylender takes the land and leaves the peasant with nothing. This is in stark contrast to the reciprocal relationship of the peasants where when A has a bad year B backs him, while in the reverse A helps B, and both in the end still have their land. The moneylenders’ system in contrast is viewed as callous, cruel, uncompassionate, and unchristian.

    Zimmermann is the one implementing the ban against debt collection, but Johann Eck lets fly against the hateful mentality of the moneylenders. “You forge chamber pots out of silver, while defrauding the poor. While you shit on seats of gold, a fellow child of God starves to death outside your door. You place more value on your excrement than on the lives of those without money. Hateful wretched creatures, who bring so much suffering into the world, and so little joy. If it were within your power, you would take others’ shares of sunshine and fresh air, for there is no satisfying your endless greed.”

    The goal seems to be to create in northern Bavaria a type of idealized peasant society, one with the strengths and benefits of a peasant society, but without the great nobles and merchants looming over it, squeezing the peasants for all their worth. Along with the land distribution local administration goes back to the villages. The villages run their own law courts, operated by the peasants rather than the local lord. Local leadership is determined by the village assemblies, without interference from the no-longer-around local lord or his bailiff. Decisions regarding common land are decided by village assemblies. Order is kept not by the lord’s retainers but by peasant recruits from Zimmermann’s army.

    The army is funded by contributions from the villages, but the villagers understand the need and provide what is required. While they don’t like paying taxes, the peasants understand the point of some of them. The key differences here are twofold. First is that the taxes to Zimmermann actually provide security and order, something the peasants desperately want as chaos is tough on harvests. The lords didn’t keep the Romans out; Zimmermann did. Secondly, the taxes are lighter. The taxes are providing essential services but not funding the luxurious lifestyles of their overlords. The three Chief Ravens eat and dress no better than any of the other birds.

    Despite the attacks on predatory merchants and moneylenders, the three aren’t against all economic activity that isn’t farming. No one is. The village blacksmith is needed to produce nails, for example, for the farmers. But if he is making nails, he isn’t growing his own food. So the nails he produces need to be exchanged for food, and coinage can be used as a standard means of exchange. The key here is to keep the system from being abusive.

    This is where Alexios Asanes gets involved. He is familiar with Roman literature on this concept, and there is discussion on this going back literally centuries. The Romans, even when they became Christian, never abolished usury as the Catholic Church in the west tried to do. Usury was allowed, within limits. More risky loans, such as maritime loans, had higher limits as compensation for the higher risks. Merchants could make profits on their transactions as compensation for their labors, just so long as they didn’t engage in loansharking or price gouging. Asanes works to implement a similar system in northern Bavaria. For example, moneylending is allowed again after the debt cancellation, but no one can lose their land for failure to pay back a debt.

    This new peasant society will not be allowed to develop unchallenged. Elizabeth cannot accept close to one-sixth of Bavaria at its height to remain out of her control, particularly if the control is instead in the hands of a peasant, friar, and heretic priest all with delusions of grandeur of upsetting the natural order of society. Still she must swallow her pride and ask Ottokar for help. As the new Holy Roman Emperor, he has the responsibility of maintaining order in the land, and given the proximity of northern Bavaria to Bohemia, he has a vested interest in his own peasants not getting any ideas.

    In early 1637 the ‘Raven State’, for lack of a better or official term, is attacked from both north and south by Bohemian and Bavarian forces respectively. The peasant troops of Zimmermann fight extremely well, inflicting a level of casualties on their attackers that appall both Elizabeth and Ottokar who cannot afford the losses in manpower, but under the pincer attack they are forced to give way. By May it would seem the Ravens’ Rebellion is about to be done, yet another footnote in the history of failed peasant uprisings.

    Certainly not all, or even the majority of the peasants, are willing to continue the fight, seeing a hard road ahead and gambling that perhaps they can return to the old order (those less connected to the rebellion have some chance of clemency). But there are those not willing to make that surrender, whether because they will not or because they see no hope of mercy.

    People who have been given a taste of a new world, of a better world, where they are people who matter as people instead of just being the pack mules and food procurers of their social ‘betters’, are not keen to give that up just yet. As rebels they can expect no mercy from their attackers, so they do what they must, what peasants have always managed to do despite the abuse and horror and hatred inflicted upon them by their ‘betters’, they survive. If they cannot survive here, perhaps somewhere else. If this is not to be the new Jerusalem, perhaps somewhere else will be.

    The Ravens gather around the three, with their families, herds, and the possessions they can carry, determined to continue the fight for a world that has a place for them, wherever it may lead. For death is better than surrender, and there are no masters where the faithful find rest. The Bavarians and Bohemians try to halt this massing migration but Zimmermann halts them in a bloody battle that leaves a fifth of the attackers dead or wounded on the field.

    “And so,” says Demetrios Sideros, “begins their Anabasis.”


    “Are we attempting the impossible? Perhaps. Probably. The noble, if he could, would take even the sunshine and fresh air of the peasant. The malice of those arrayed against us is great, and so is their power. Perhaps we are fools. And yet, perhaps not. Men die. Women die. But so long as people endure, ideas will not. They may sleep for a thousand years, but burst awake again after a silence of centuries. Perhaps we will fail. But that does not mean that would be the end. Our cause, our struggle, can be an inspiration for generations yet to come, who will take up the banner where we have fallen. What we fail to achieve in our weakness, they will accomplish in their strength. That is why we must do what we do, even if it is certain we ourselves will fail.

    God did not call us to feed all the hungry, or cure all the sick, or comfort all the poor. But he called us to do what we can, what is within our power to accomplish. If this task be beyond our strength, we will have at least tried. And God is merciful; he will understand.”-Johann Eck

    [1] Much of the information I use for peasant society and agriculture comes from ‘A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry’. Here is the link for the beginning of the most pertinent essay series. I’m certain anyone here reading this TL for fun will enjoy this blog. I highly recommend it.
     
    Look to the West: The Ravens' Rebellion Part 2
  • Look to the West: The Ravens' Rebellion Part 2

    At the beginning of the Long March, as it is often styled, the Ravens do not seem to have any particular destination in mind. They head to the northwest, keeping Bohemia on their right. Elizabeth, interested only in securing control over northern Bavaria, loses interest once they leave her lands. She has reestablished her authority over the region, but it is highly depopulated, stripped, and devastated. Ottokar still retains an interest in crushing this uprising, but he was dismayed at the butcher’s bill he’s already had to pay. So when the princes threatened by the Ravens call for aid, he wants them to contribute. They object, which infuriates Ottokar. The princes want him to crush rebels in their own lands using his money and his troops, while they refuse to add their own money and troops to the contest. Disgusted and wanting to conserve his resources, Ottokar restricts his efforts to ensuring the Ravens stay out of Bohemia. The Bohemian nobility back him fully in this; they don’t want to see Bohemian resources wasted on matters that are solely of German interest.

    Some of the princes try to stop the Ravens but individually they lack the numbers. Most retreat to their fortified strongholds, harassing the peasants, although since the peasants are really good at ambuscades those raids can get very hairy for the raiders. The Ravens lack the artillery to break into fortified settlements, so most towns are able to buy them off with supplies coupled with a promise to move along. The princes and towns are just concerned with getting the Ravens to be somewhere else rather than cooperating together to destroy them. They certainly want the Ravens slaughtered, but they want someone else to do the bloody work.

    In mid-summer the Ravens arrive at Fulda where a decision needs to be made. Do they turn to the west or shift to the north? Greatly complicating the decision-making process is that simultaneously a Triune army is storming out of the Fulda Gap from the west. This is the largest of the ‘forward columns’ traipsing through Germany, showing everyone who the real power is in the land and requisitioning supplies to maintain the Triune forces. It numbers 20,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry, backed by a field artillery train.

    This is a serious problem for the Ravens. They cannot retire the way they came; they’ve eaten it up. They need supplies from Fulda to continue forward, but Fulda isn’t cooperating because the burghers know that the Triunes are going to demand supplies as well. Fulda can’t feed both, but only the Triunes can smash through the walls to take the city. Furthermore the Triune commander, the Earl of Pembroke, has his blue blood up at the thought of uppity peasants and is keen to wipe out the Ravens himself. The Ravens can’t avoid battle; they have a huge train of women, children, and animals, slowing their movement to a crawl.

    Zimmermann has a numerical advantage, the most common figures giving him 27000 infantry. However he only has 600 ‘cavalry’, and they are practically all mounted infantry riding cheap nags rather than real cavalry. He has some artillery pieces captured from the Bavarians and Bohemians but with limited ammunition and crews far less capable than the skilled Triune artillerists. This is by far the greatest military test he has faced thus far.

    Given these disadvantages, Zimmermann (likely unknowingly) takes a page from Iskandar the Great’s playbook and decides to stun the world with his audacity. He attacks.

    Leading the way is a giant swarm of skirmishers, the most experienced and dedicated of his recruits. Many of them are crack shots, having been poachers in their past life. What is unprecedented in this, at least in this part of the world, is the sheer size of the swarm. Here Zimmermann’s experience of warfare in the east is demonstrated. The German forces had deployed some skirmishers during the fighting with the Romans and gradually upped the amount over the course of the war, but even by the end it was not comparable to the clouds Roman and Ottoman armies regularly threw at each other. The Triunes are even less used to skirmisher clouds than the Germans; the swarm would be standard to any Roman Strategos or Ottoman Bey, but the Earl has never seen anything like it.

    The swarm is to harass and distract the Triunes from the real threat. With the widespread deployment of the flintlock musket plus ambrolar combination in recent decades, massively increasing the firepower of infantry compared to their matchlock arquebusier predecessors, the focus has been on line formation, maximizing the firepower component. That doesn’t work for Friedrich. In an open field engagement, he can’t afford to stand around and trade lead with opponents who will certainly have massive artillery superiority. He’s seen what massed guns do to infantry in the open. Also it is incredibly difficult to get men to stand in such brutal combat; that act runs contrary to all instinct of self-preservation. This is the origin of so much of the brutal discipline in regular armies of the time. The men must be more terrified of their officers than the enemy in front of them. (This is also why there is absolutely no tolerance for cowardice in the officer corps.) Friedrich though has volunteer recruits; he can’t get away with abusing them even if he wanted to, which he does not.

    Friedrich can’t stand and trade fire. He needs to close and force a melee. Line formations are terrible at this, but columns are a different matter. The firepower of columns is weak, but they are comparatively very fast and maneuverable, much better at forcing a melee. In addition their shape encourages the men’s morale as just having a bunch of your mates literally at your back helps boost your spirits (plus the shame of trying to run away in front of all your mates). This plus their shape makes columns more resistant to cavalry attacks, a very pertinent detail at this point.

    Friedrich deploys his best infantry not in the swarm into line to provide firepower but most of his foot are concentrated into three massive columns. The swarm distracts the Triunes, preventing them from blowing the heads off the columns with concentrated musketry and artillery. Flanking Triune cavalry halt one column but are unable to break it while the Triune cavalry on the other side get lost in the dust and smoke of the battlefield and attack the Raven camp. They are beaten off at the wagon laager by the Raven cavalry they’d scattered earlier plus the camp followers.

    Meanwhile the other two Raven columns hit the Triune line and easily punch through it. Commanded by soldiers who’d served under Zimmermann in Rhomania, the columns pivot and start rolling up the Triune army. It breaks and routs. The cavalry, seeing the day is lost, ride away unmolested while the artillery train is overrun. The Triune infantry flee toward nearby Fulda, pursued by a massive murder of enraged Ravens. The inhabitants of Fulda, either through hatred of the Triunes or more likely fear of accidentally letting the Ravens inside, refuse to open the gates and the Triune soldiers are butchered outside by the Ravens.

    It is the greatest defeat of a Triune army in a generation. The Earl of Pembroke is utterly disgraced and wisely retires to his country estates and stays there. Europe is stunned. Friedrich extracts a massive contribution from Fulda, helped substantially by the new Triune cannons and their accompanying ammunition wagons. He also makes the decision to head northeast. Traveling west runs the risk of running into more and larger Triune armies and despite the victory he does not wish to press his luck.

    The Ravens have little support in the towns and cities of Germany; theirs is overwhelmingly a rural movement. Built with and for peasants, the Ravens distrust the cities, home of the moneylenders who take their land when payments fail. The oratory is geared towards the needs and fears and desires of the rural peasantry.

    Zimmermann sees this as a problem militarily. The original ‘Raven land’ was overrun, so there is no guarantee a new ‘Raven land’ would fare any better, unless it was more defensible. The clearest way to make it more defensible would be to have a fortified city or cities to act as bases to secure the land. But to do that requires seizing said city or cities. Thanks to the Triunes, the Ravens now have the artillery to make a go at it, but Zimmermann doesn’t have the knowledge for siege work. So any Raven siege, even with those guns, would be an inept and slow affair, leaving the Ravens horribly vulnerable during the process.

    The three Chief Ravens discuss the situation and Johann gets to work. Aside from extorting supplies from the towns, Eck has been forcing the towns to print pamphlets for him. Once made, despite the best efforts of authorities across Germany and beyond, they spread. Johann expands on the aspects of his oratory that are less peasant-specific. He emphasizes the fundamental equality of all believers before God, proof that social hierarchy is a human, not divine, construct. He also adjusts the economic aspects. The peasants should have enough land to at least have a reasonable guarantee of providing for their families. Workers should have a job that earns them enough to get the same guarantee. There should be less discrepancy in wealth between urban poor and urban elites, just as in the countryside. Men who have skill should be able to profit, but not if it comes at the expense of taking bread from the mouth of another. These words definitely reach an audience within the towns and cities, particularly in one city.

    Magdeburg is not one of the great cities of Germany, but was solidly in the prosperous second-tier with a pre-war population of 35000. The war has not been kind to it. Unlike the great cities like Lubeck which are still financially solvent (if shaky), Magdeburg’s civic debt has soared to crippling proportions from forced loans to the Wittelsbachs and the expenses of its military contributions. To combat the debt, taxes have been raised or added, including on many vital products, even while at the same time work has dried up.

    The work that is available is funneled towards those with connections to the elites, such as guild masters and their relations, which infuriates the journeymen who lack these connections and opportunities. The journeymen, and other city-dwellers like them, had contributed to the city’s war effort by supporting the civic bond drives with their earnings. The odds of them getting repaid are minimal and they know it. Meanwhile the elites had, if they’d been able, invested less in the city’s bonds but in Roman bonds, so they are still seeing returns on their investments even as they hike taxes on salt for everyone else and simultaneously steer the limited supply of work towards themselves even though they need it least at the moment. The city is frothing with anger and someone, although who has never been identified, makes contact with the Ravens.

    The Ravens arrive at the walls of Magdeburg in late August. The city’s fortifications are not new, built in the early 1500s, but they were designed with gunpowder in mind. Against Vauban they would not be a formidable obstacle, but to the Ravens they are practically impregnable. The city resists when the Ravens first appear, the rhetoric being stirred up against them in the city by emphasizing their ‘country bumpkin’ and ‘foreign’ (although they’ve accrued followers during the march, the Raven core is still that of Bavaria) nature.

    It is not enough. Four days into the siege, several journeymen, disgusted that their opportunities for work and advancement are being blocked while their families struggle, clear a bricked-up sally port and let a Raven squad through it. Together they attack the nearest gatehouse, opening it and the Raven army pours into the city. Friedrich Zimmermann issues the following famous (or infamous, depending on one’s point of view) order: Spare the commons but kill the lords.

    What follows is often described as the Sack of Magdeburg but in the words of a modern Roman historian, it was “likely the most orderly and clean sack of a city in the history of city sacking. It hardly deserves that description and its use speaks more to the bias of the users rather than the actual historical circumstances.” Those who continue to resist are cut down but there is very little looting and no wanton raping.

    There is killing but it is specific targeted killing, not the rampant random slaughter of a sack. Those who are identified as the ‘lords’, the civic elite, are executed. One’s status as a member of this condemned category is determined by a mix of the size of one’s home, the fineness of the clothes, the conditions of one’s hands (are there calluses from working with tools?), and neighborhood informants. Suddenly there are lots of openings in the craft guilds to the delight of the journeymen. However the chief lord, the Archbishop of Magdeburg, manages to flee the city.

    The execution of the rich, followed by the division and redistribution of their assets among the poorer folk, reminds many in Latin Europe of the events in Genoa, although the Ravens killed many more of the upper tiers than the Romans who only targeted the big grandees and their families. There seems to be no inspirational connection between the two events, but many Latins link the two. This is a major factor in the likes of the Spanish and Arletians prioritizing the Romans over the Triunes. The Triunes are not a threat to the social order. The Romans are much more questionable in that regard.

    After the fall of Magdeburg, the Ravens fan out and occupy the countryside that recognized the lordship of the city, also raiding further afield for supplies. With the influx of Ravens and them no longer moving, foodstuffs are a major concern. While the larders of the nobility are the preferred targets, it has to be said that many Ravens end up taking food from peasant households, often devastating said households.

    The raids do not cross into Saxony but focus westward. Ottokar has not moved against the Ravens since they left Bavaria. While he wants the Ravens destroyed, anything that can defeat a Triune field army is something he might need in the future. Furthermore he doesn’t want to risk devastating his own army in the process, creating yet another power vacuum for Henri to exploit. The Chief Ravens pick up on this and thus avoid territories that answer directly to Ottokar. (The big flaw is the concern that the princes will turn to Henri to deal with the Ravens if Ottokar won’t, but Ottokar has already lost too many soldiers he can’t easily replace to rush again into battle against the rebels.)

    Still it is a hard and hungry time for the Raven Land of Magdeburg over the winter of 1637-38. The redistribution of elite assets is cancelled out by the influx of all the Ravens, but the people bear it better than they did under the old regime. There was suffering under both the old and new, but under the old there were blatant exemptions which fed justified resentment. There is still suffering and resentment in the new, for hungry and angry people are rarely pleasant peaceful folk, but at least here misery gets the company it craves and all are in the same boat, which helps morale in its own way.

    The Ravens and Magdeburg survive the winter, albeit in reduced numbers. The spring arrives and the agricultural cycle continues. Tools are repaired and built, damages to the walls are fixed, and the faithful gather in churches to take communion in both kinds. They are addressed by poor and plainly-clothed country priests who delight in the downfall of their wealthy clerical superiors, preaching on the fundamental equality of all believers before God. While the villagers operate their own courts and assemblies as they would without noble interference, the city magistracies are determined by open elections with voting open to all resident heads of households, without any other property requirements. It is a startling innovation, especially since it means some women, chiefly widows, who are heads of their own households, are able to vote. It is a truly bizarre, and many would argue unnatural, sight.

    Ottokar’s campaigns in 1638 avoid the Raven lands. The Triunes are still cautiously sticking mainly to western Germany, not approaching Magdeburg. The lesser lords seem too intimidated to oppose the Ravens when they send out their ‘redistribution parties’ again in the summer. Perhaps a new world is possible.

    Perhaps.
     
    The House of Iron: Who Are You?
  • The House of Iron: Who Are You?


    The Monastery of St. Theodoros Megas, near Didymoteichon, Thrace, April 19, 1639:

    Iskandar looked up from the piece of wood he was carving to gaze again on the landscape sprawled out before him. He was sitting in a chair on a hill crowned by a copse of trees, below him a small lake. At the opposite end of the lake a stream exited, winding its way down to the shimmering ribbon that was the Evros River near the horizon. It was a clear warm day.

    Next to the lake by a small dock where two small boats were moored was a square wooden structure. The ‘guests of Theodoros Megas’ used it as their hesychastic lodge while they were here; the monastery, like several others dedicated to Theodoros Megas, helped care for veterans who had…dreams. The members of their lodge had come here as a retreat.

    He could see Odysseus seated down by the lake, nibbling the end of his brush while he pondered the canvas. Iskandar could make out the broad strokes. It was a landscape painting of the scene spread before him, but that was too simple, too plain, too boring for Odysseus. His lake had dinosaurs watering themselves, triceratops drinking deeply while their dismounted riders, great iron-tipped spears and bows slung over their backs, filled their canteens. It was a mix of the real world, and of a world that his father Demetrios had imagined.

    Iskandar heard movement behind him and looked over to see one of the older monks, Brother Anastasios, headed towards him. He was pushing a wheelbarrow with pieces of firewood in it and halted at a splitting stump set back behind Iskandar’s chair. “Do you need any help with that?” Iskandar asked as Anastasios hefted his axe.

    “No, I’ve got this. But thanks.”

    Anastasios started splitting the wood while Iskandar went back to his carving, but the monk constantly muttered words under his breath as the wood was uncooperative. Iskandar couldn’t make out most of what he said, but the little he got was all profane. Iskandar turned his head to look at the monk, who had his axe bit deep into the last piece and was hammering at the back with a hammer to split the lumber. “For someone who’s taken vows, you swear a lot.”

    Anastasios looked up at him. “Clearly you don’t spend much time around nuns.”

    “What?”

    He grinned. “I refuse to explain that.”

    With a solid thunk he finished breaking apart the wood and wiped his brow. He walked over and plunked down in one of the other chairs, breathing heavily until his chest settled down. Then he looked over at Iskandar. “Is that one of those dinosaur things you’re making?”

    “It is,” Iskandar replied, showing him the almost-complete wooden carving. “It’s a stegosaurus.”

    “Looks like my mother-in-law.”

    “I strongly suspect you have some strange stories you’re not telling me.” The white-haired monk grinned evilly at him.

    “The back-plates don’t seem the best defense,” Anastasios added. “They cover the upper back, but it’s got those exposed flanks.”

    “Yeah. I figure the flanks are protected by this.” He pointed at the tail with its four wicked spikes. “While the plates protect the part that can’t be reached with the tail.”

    “Good explanation. Makes sense. And unsurprising from you, considering your father.” Iskandar raised an eyebrow. “Speaking of strange stories, I met your father before you were born.”

    “Really, when?”

    “Well, met is probably the wrong word. We never spoke but I tried to kill him. I was at Astara. I had a good shot on him but missed, obviously. Clipped his turban, although I don’t know if he noticed.”

    “Do you wish you had killed him?”

    “No. Are you surprised by that?”

    “Not really. If you did, I doubt you’d be telling me this. Although I don’t know why.”

    “If it had been God’s will for your father to die at my hand, he would have. Obviously it was not God’s will. So be it. I have enough blood on my hands; I have no need to wish for more.”

    “There are some Romans who would be quite angry to hear you say that.”

    “I know. And my fist would be happy to discuss this with their noses if it comes up.”

    “I thought you said you didn’t want more blood on your hands.”

    “Don’t want to kill anyone. But punching people, especially stupid ones, I’m open to that.”

    “You are a strange monk.”

    “I’ve got nothing on nuns.”

    “Are you going to explain that one now?”

    “Nope.”

    They sat there in silence for a while. “You were at Astara, and other places, I assume?” Iskandar asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Do the dreams ever stop?”

    Anastasios breathed out heavily. “They come less often, but no, they do not stop.”

    “How do you deal with that?”

    “Still trying to figure that one out myself. I guess you learn to live with them. Or you don’t. And I do not condemn or judge anyone who cannot.”

    * * *

    The Monastery of St. Theodoros Megas, near Didymoteichon, Thrace, April 29, 1639:


    Iskandar was back seated on the hill, looking out as the sun crested over the horizon. He had the finished wooden dinosaur carvings in his hands; Odysseus had painted them once he was finished with the woodworking. In his left he had the stegosaurus and in his right he had the triceratops he’d made after the stegosaurus.

    He held up the stegosaurus. “A new day dawns, and a new land for us to claim and call our own,” he said.

    Then it was the triceratops’ turn. “Yes, yes, a new land for us. We must name it. We should call it Fred.”

    “Fred? Fred? Are you serious?” Steg ‘replied’.

    “Of course,” Tri ‘answered’. “It’s a great name.”

    “Well, then it’s official.”

    “Wait, are you serious?”

    “Yup. You’re not allowed to name anything, ever.”

    “That doesn’t seem fair.”

    “Says the one who wants to call our new land Fred. No, we’re going to call it Steve. That’s a much better name.”

    Iskandar smiled as the horn called from the lodge, interrupting him. There were reasons he preferred to keep his thoughts to himself.

    * * *

    Dyulino Pass, Theme of Bulgaria, May 5, 1639:


    The three of them rode up to the hunting lodge, currently empty and locked up. Odysseus looked over at his companions, Michael Pirokolos and Iskandar of Persia. “Are you sure you wish to do this?” Michael asked.

    “Wish, no,” Odysseus replied. “But have to, yes.” He dismounted, handing the reins over to Iskandar who took them silently.

    It was just the three of them in the yard; their attendants had stopped a kilometer down the road. Odysseus had no desire to stay here.

    The hunting lodge now belonged to his brother-in-law Alexandros but he rarely used the place, which was just fine with Odysseus. This was where Andreas, Emperor of the Romans, his brother, had died.

    He wandered around to the back of the building, not willing to step inside. It was silly, ridiculous, arguably pathetic, that he had come this far, and yet couldn’t make that last little step, but that was the way it was. He still wasn’t entirely sure why he was here. He hadn’t been here since that hateful day, and it wasn’t a special anniversary even. The trip had been out of the way, and he needed to go to Constantinople. His father had called for him, and it did not seem the Emperor would long be in the land of the living.

    That was why Odysseus had come here, now. To do so during what would be likely his last chance before he was Emperor of the Romans, before he took the throne that had once been that of Andreas III, back in what seemed like another lifetime.

    He just stood there silently, staring out into the silent woods, his thoughts tumbling and crashing over each other, arguing and pleading and pondering inside his head.

    He felt shame at the first thought he’d made at seeing Maria after Andreas had died. He felt grief at the loss of his friend, his brother. Yet he was also angry at Andreas, angry at him for dying. That was what had started it all. And he felt guilt for feeling that anger. But he also felt relief, for perhaps the nightmares would’ve come anyway, and at least this way Andreas had been spared them. But while Odysseus shuddered at the nightmares, he could not deny that war and battle called to him. He yearned for it, for it was the only time he truly felt alive, the only time he truly felt free from fear. Yet he knew that was wrong, for it only spread the nightmares even more, and so the guilt and shame returned.

    He felt…tired.

    There were some promises to keep, and a thing or two for himself he wished to do, but he was tired. “See you soon, brother,” he whispered, then turned and walked back to his companions.

    * * *

    The White Palace, Constantinople, May 9, 1639:


    The smell was the first thing he noticed. It wasn’t very strong, but there was a distinct tang of it in the air. The smell of human excrement, wet, hot, new. Odysseus knew from where it came.

    His father was seated on the opposite side of the room, a thick black curtain set between them. The window was on his father’s side, so Odysseus’ part of the chamber was dark, making it even harder for him to see. All he could make out was an outline, a thin old man in a chair, a small desk in front of him, a glass and small plate set on top. Along with the excrement was a smell of milk and shrimp.

    Demetrios III Sideros, Emperor of the Romans, had been worried about his wrecked digestive system incapacitating him during the key negotiations with the Latins over Italy. To keep that from being a problem, he’d lessened his already low food intake, to decrease the amount of matter scraping over ulcerated intestines. It had worked, but like all things, it came at a cost. Three days after the treaty signing, he’d collapsed. He’d been so weak he’d been unable to hold his bowels. Somehow he’d not died then, and with some more regular food intake he’d recovered a bit, but even now, the Emperor of the Romans, one of the most powerful men in the world, could only with difficulty and with limited success keep from fouling himself. Odysseus did not blame his father for hiding away from the world.

    “Thank you for not saying anything,” Demetrios said. Odysseus opened his mouth. “Don’t patronize me; I know what I smell like.”

    The voice was weak, but that of his father, but not quite. Odysseus knew immediately what was off, for he had heard that voice many times. It was the voice of a man who had already died inside, and was waiting for that one merciful bullet to come and finally end it. Odysseus knew that voice well. He had sometimes wondered about that one merciful bullet himself.

    “You wished to speak to me,” Odysseus replied, coming up close to the curtain.

    “You’re going to be Emperor soon. I had some words of advice from a man who, in theory, is supposed to be intelligent, although I have my doubts.”

    “What would those be?”

    “Don’t end up like me.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Don’t be like me, someone who had his life decided for him by others. Find the story you want to tell with your life, tell it, and then get the hell out of here.”

    “Was it, was it really that bad, your life?”

    “No, it could’ve been worse. But this was my one life, and it was not the one I would’ve wanted, and it was not the one I was meant for. Purple is a good color for your mother, and your sister, but not for me. Nor is it a good color for you. You know I’m right. This place is not for you or me. If you stay here, you’ll end up like me. Promise me you won’t.”

    “I promise. I promise I won’t end up like you.” A pause. “That sounded wrong, coming from me.”

    Demetrios actually managed a chuckle. “A bit. But thank you. Goodbye, my son.” There was a bit of strain in his voice in the last word, Odysseus guessing that he was trying to hold his bowels.

    “Goodbye, Father.”

    As Odysseus left the chamber he could smell that his father had failed. The last thing he sensed as he exited was Demetrios’ pained whisper, “please, don’t end up like me.”
     
    The House of Iron: The Forgotten Emperor
  • The House of Iron: The Forgotten Emperor

    The Sweet Waters of Asia, Bithynia, May 13, 1639:

    Athena didn’t help her father as he struggled to shift himself from the wheelchair onto the bench. She knew he didn’t want it; what little pride that was left to him was all the more precious for being so rare. He finally settled down onto the bench.

    They were at the top of a small hill near the west end of the Sweet Waters and in a small gazebo that was built as a miniature Japanese castle with a scenic view of where the sun set. Right now it was mid-afternoon so the sun was still eclipsed by the roof from their vantage point. Athena sat down on the right end of the bench as Demetrios set down his knapsack. In it was a book, a canteen, and an unadorned silver goblet.

    He reached over and squeezed her hand gently. “Thank you, Athena, for everything. But it’s time for you to go.”

    “Are you sure?” she asked, somehow keeping her voice from shaking.

    “I’m quite sure. For this, I’d like to be alone.”

    She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and leaned over to kiss him on the right temple. As she stood he spoke. “Peace be with you, my daughter. I know this is hard for you. But I wanted you here so that the last words I ever speak to another person is that I love you.”

    Her eyes clouded over. “I love you too.” Demetrios smiled sadly, but didn’t speak of course. There could be no more words.

    She started walking back down the trail which headed east, behind the gazebo, wiping the tears from her eyes. She thought she heard her father speak, not to her, but his words were carried on the wind. “All the rivers flow into the sea, and yet the sea is never full.” She looked back to see him. His back was to her and he was pouring the contents of the canteen into the silver goblet. He saluted the declining sun, just starting to peek below the roof, and then without any signs of hesitation or weakness, drank the contents of the goblet to its dregs.

    * * *

    Demetrios III Sideros was found dead in a gazebo in the Sweet Waters of Asia on May 13, 1639. No one had been with him when he died, but his last words, according to his daughter the Lady Athena, had been a quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes. He had been 53 years old and had reigned for a little over eight and a half years. His reign had not been a long one, but was a highly significant one. Yet when he is remembered, he is known as the Forgotten Emperor, and as the name suggests he is not remembered very often. Why?

    The simplest explanation is that he was eclipsed by his son and successor Odysseus, whose exploits captured the imaginations of future generations in a way Demetrios’ never did, and never could. However the simplest explanation, as is often the case, is unsatisfying and doesn’t adequately cover all the facts. Demetrios III doesn’t seem to be merely eclipsed, but almost erased from history.

    Another explanation is that Demetrios’ reign is forgotten because people wanted to forget it. It was a bad time to be Roman. It began with an incredibly devastating and destructive war and ended with a major economic crisis, one that would hamper Rhomania’s ability to deal with the next great disaster of the apex of the Little Ice Age, making the latter even more devastating than would’ve been the case. The surge of productivity in the early and middle parts were sucked into the war effort or collapsed in the depression.

    Demetrios’ civic career had always stressed a concern for the plight of the common people. His first action that earned him public notice was a publication arguing for differential taxation, not just as an economic but also a moral necessity. That was because differential taxation would benefit the poor by reducing their tax load. His administrative reforms, including the development of differential taxation, emphasized a concern for the common people.

    It must be noted that while Demetrios sincerely held these concerns, he was not a people person in person. His relationship with the Constantinople crowd was notoriously poor due to his lack of a personal touch or charisma, and he made little to no effort to cultivate one, even earlier in his reign when his health was better. A much more recent saying-I care about people, so long as I don’t have to actually talk to them-seems quite applicable. He was never popular because of his lack of a social personality and was only close to a few individuals, mainly family and a few immediate staff. A modern biographer described him as “a classic example of an introvert, a personality type that modern society, especially public society, absolutely despises.”

    That concern for the commons cuts deep to the heartbreaking final written words of Demetrios, writ just a few hours before his death. “I die a failure.” Because of the depression, the plight of many of the common Roman people was worse at the end of his reign then at the beginning. His administrative reforms would benefit the empire, but in the long-term, and it was impossible to see that in the morass of the late 1630s. Most of our primary source viewpoints of Demetrios’ reign date either to this morass or to the mid-1640s to 60s, when the Empire was shivering under the blows of the Little Ice Age.

    Inevitably in that atmosphere, the sense of sorrow, of failure, of great deeds done and great sacrifices made, and have it all seemingly be for nothing, is pervasive. The writings about the Great Latin War don’t focus on the battles or the triumphs, but instead on the lost. No glory here, just grief. Simply put, reading about this time period is depressing, and like most depressing things, the easiest thing to do is to try and sweep it under the rug and pretend it isn’t there. Much better to look at the reign of Odysseus Sideros (provided one doesn’t look too closely).

    However that is not an option for historians and those others who are interested in truly understanding the reign of Demetrios III Sideros.

    Likely the first word any biographer of Demetrios III Sideros uses to describe their subject is ‘complicated’. There is a lot of source material on the topic available. If one were to add up all of the surviving documents containing handwriting of Andreas I Komnenos on it somewhere, even if it were no more than his signature, the total comes to 338 pages. If one were to do the same for Demetrios Sideros, the total comes to 5,129 pages. A major reason for this is that Demetrios lived in a more bureaucratized age and a century and a half closer to the present, meaning more sources survive. But nevertheless it means that any biographer of Demetrios III Sideros faces a daunting mountain of material. It’s hard to understand an Emperor of the Romans who pens a science fiction story that ends with the imminent threat of the invasion and destruction of the Roman Empire by an older and more powerful foe.

    Historians often admit a soft spot for Demetrios III, recognizing him as a kindred spirit, as he was a historian before he was an Emperor, and certainly cared for the former occupation more than the latter. One scholar of the 17th century wrote that he could easily picture a present-day Demetrios as a university lecturer famous for both his brilliance and eccentricity, ‘delivering a sharp and incisive lecture to a hall of students, all while wearing a bathrobe and slippers that were dinosaur-themed’.

    That Demetrios III was a historian is a key component in answering the question of why he is the Forgotten Emperor. He wrote several histories on many topics, but his last history was that of his own reign. Most scholars rate that history as his best. And so much of what modern society knows about the 1630s is through the history written by Demetrios III. Published shortly after his death, it almost immediately became the standard account (and it should be noted because of its high quality, not because of the rank of the author). This was not a typical politician’s self-serving memoir but a scholarly tome, well-documented and analytical, the type of work historians take very seriously. Thus the narrative of Demetrios III’s reign was set down by the pen of Demetrios Sideros.

    This is absolutely crucial. The Emperor is a constant presence in the history, which is unsurprising. Demetrios does not spare the Emperor from criticism either. But it is always the Emperor on the pages doing things. The archetype of an Emperor figure is there, but Demetrios Sideros is absent. Demetrios provided pen portraits of many of the characters, in Latin cases using captured documents, but there is none of the Emperor. The archetype exists because an Emperor needs to be there, but there is no person. Scholars of the period have noted repeatedly that to get a feel for Demetrios’ feelings, motivations, and thoughts, his history is useless and one must use his journals and correspondence. Demetrios wrote the standard narrative of his reign, and wrote himself, as a person, out of it.

    This was certainly deliberate. Demetrios’ body never returns to Constantinople and he is not buried in the Sideros family mausoleum. There’s not even a missing niche for him. In the mausoleum, where one would expect the founder(s) to be placed, are laid to rest the Empress Jahzara, Emperor Odysseus, and the Lady Athena, but not Demetrios. His final resting place is unrecorded, no one knowing where he sleeps.

    The most common story regarding his burial is that his family along with attendants sworn to secrecy diverted a river, buried him underneath the dry bed, and then released the river to flow back on its course, hiding the grave so that he would not be bothered by people ever again. Some scholars are skeptical, noting similarities to the burial of Alaric the Goth, but others point out that Demetrios also knew of those similarities and may have arranged to deliberately copy them. Arranging the burial of a Roman Emperor after that of a Gothic warlord who sacked Rome sounds like something he would do.

    Regardless of where or how he was buried, it seems quite clear that Demetrios III Sideros had no intention of being remembered as an Emperor.

    There is more to the tale of Demetrios wanting to be forgotten, and here is where the tales of sorcery that flit around him start to seem a little credible. The first scholar who tried to write a biography of him died in 1719 while still in the process of gathering source materials. The cause of death: a hammer was accidentally knocked out of a fifth-story window and hit him on the head. A student of his took up the project but died in 1726 after a friend’s pet monkey bit him and the wound turned infectious. Thirty years later another scholar took up the project and his predecessors’ notes. How he died is still unknown. The different accounts cannot be reconciled, although all agree that a clown was present. Some questions are best left unanswered.

    It wasn’t until 1818 that the spell seems to have lifted, by a scholar from the Kephalate of Skammandros. According to his journal, his years as Kephale of the area were the happiest years in Demetrios’ life. But despite scholarly inquiry into Demetrios Sideros becoming less fatal, the standard account of his reign was firmly set and still remains firmly set.

    He is still remembered in some ways, although the most well-known plays on the fact that he isn’t remembered. The hit television show Schoolhouse Imperial is a high school show where all the student characters are based on historical Emperors and Empresses. The show certainly celebrates its nerdy characters, with the most popular being Theodoros IV. The episode ‘A Hyperpyra for your Silence’, where Theodoros uncovers financial corruption in the principal’s husband’s construction company and uses that to blackmail her into reinstating his favorite teacher, is consistently the most highly rated episode. Demetrios III is one of the nerd group, and while he has few scenes and lines, one of the gags is that no one in the show remembers what he says or does, which allows him to get away with things other characters couldn’t. Still, this could hardly be considered a fitting historical monument considering his significance, but since Demetrios III clearly didn’t want any monuments, it’s doubtful he would mind.

    So what is the significance of Demetrios III’s reign? He presided over some major and long-lasting administrative reforms, many of which are still in place today, almost four centuries later. His focus with the debt repayments, prioritizing the small bondholders over the major loans floated through the Imperial Bank and wealthy financiers, has also struck a chord that echoes through Roman society and politics to this day.

    There is also the far more ugly side. Demetrios III was concerned with the plight of the common Roman people, and with those like the Genoese to whom he had promised protection. But by modern standards he unquestionably committed crimes against humanity with his reprisals against Syrian Sunni rebels. And while it was a cruel time, these reprisals were cruel even by those standards. Exactly how much of Demetrios’ thought was behind the logistics of the Great Crime are debated, but the organizational detail suggests substantial involvement. He may have balked at poison gas, but he had no qualms with consigning to the elements or to slavery those who were subject to his cruelty.

    The reforms to lower taxes on the poorest Romans must be set side by side with the columns of Sunni slaves marched off to bondage. Demetrios III is, as has already been said, complicated.

    In foreign affairs he was admittedly much less significant, another factor that contributes to his being forgotten. Most of his workings here have been described as overly optimistic and were short-lived. The Treaty of Belgrade was fraying within a few years of Demetrios’ death. In its effort to pair Vlachia and Hungary into a common alliance structure, it was attempting a dance that could not be kept up for long. Once the immediate desire for peace wore off, the rapprochement with Poland was wrecked by the forced cession of Polish Galicia to Vlachia. In Italy, a combination of cultural, economic, and personal factors would conspire to push back many of the concessions gained in the Treaty of Constantinople.

    These developments would only bear tangible fruit after his death but perhaps he was aware of them when he was writing A New and Ancient World. The theme of the work is hubris and the consequences of it, of the Romans pushing farther than they should and getting destroyed by the counter-blow. The late 1630s were the start of a generation that would see northern Europe decidedly surpass the Mediterranean world by the end of it, although the Little Ice Age accelerated (but did not cause) the trend. Demetrios III was at the apex of the Roman Empire’s post-Niketas influence and prestige in Europe and based on journal comments, he knew he was on shaky ground.

    Memory of him as an Emperor in modern society is very small, but as an individual, as Demetrios Sideros, not Demetrios III, he is better known. For his scholarly works he is well respected and venerated by the historically-minded (and it has been repeatedly noted in cultural studies that this is a larger proportion of Roman society as opposed to others) with some of his works still being printed and read today. More than one historian has expressed anger that he became Emperor at all. According to his journal, then Eparch Demetrios had plans for several research projects, including a history of the Isaurian dynasty. He’d already compiled sources and listed them; none are extant today. He never got around to it.

    Among those interested in paleontology and science fiction he is a much more prominent name, particularly in the latter. He has sometimes been called the grandfather of science fiction, although the reason why he is called the grandfather rather than the father is the same reason why some argue he shouldn’t hold the title in the first place. A New and Ancient World is a decided oddity, with no successors for many years. It’s been argued that it was written in the wrong century, which explains the lag; the world had to catch up to the book. In some aspects, such as the Romans’ comments and concerns about overpopulation, resource shortfalls, and environmental degradation it seems positively modern. (That said, these same issues would hit Rhomania very hard during the Little Ice Age and have extremely enduring consequences.)

    After a long stint in obscurity, once science fiction emerged and stuck around, it was rediscovered and became very popular. A New and Ancient World has been remade several times in several different mediums, the most recent in 2011. As of 2020, there are eleven astronomical objects or features named after elements from the work, selected by discoverers who were apparently fans, including the exoplanet Salnasa named after the lunar priestess which has been the subject of much recent scientific study. The show Schoolhouse Imperial acknowledges this. While Demetrios III is a minor character, the series finale reveals that the science fiction series that kept coming up in background conversation throughout the show was written by him under a pseudonym.

    That is how modern Roman society remembers Demetrios Sideros. Not as an Emperor, but as a scholar and a writer. In death he became what he had wished to be in life.

    Yet it is not Rhomania that most honors Demetrios Sideros. That distinction must go to Persia. His works were already read there before he was even Emperor, his writings making their way into the libraries of both Iskandar the Great and Ibrahim. It is said that everything Demetrios published became a bestseller in Persia. In the years and decades immediately after his death, A New and Ancient World was widely more popular in Persia than in Rhomania. The Persians likely appreciated a tale of Roman hubris receiving a typical ancient Greek punishment more than the Romans did. In Persia he is also renowned as a scholar and a writer, but also remembered in whispers as a sorcerer of great power.

    From Persia comes a different tale of the end of Demetrios Sideros. In this tale, he did not really die but was laid to rest in a cave beneath the earth, a magical cave that restored his health and contains all the books that were, all the books that are, and all the books that will be. And though the way is barred to most of the human race, those few who he loved and those few who loved him may come and visit him there.

    As endings go, it doesn’t sound so bad. Let’s leave him there.
     
    Rhomania: 1639-40
  • The White Palace Harbor, Constantinople, July 10, 1639:

    Athena looked at her brother Odysseus, the new Emperor of the Romans, who was overseeing the loading of materials, including his baggage, onto a ship for the transfer over to Asia. He was on his way to oversee training exercises for the western Anatolian tagmata, a common practice for him, although the first to be done while carrying the Imperial title.

    The people of Constantinople had found it strange that there’d been no public funeral for Demetrios III, some complaining about the insult. That had only made Athena even more understand her father’s insistence that not even his corpse would go back to the City; he was done with it. Odysseus’ coronation as Emperor, along with Maria of Agra as his Empress, had gone well, with the ceremonies surrounding it marking Odysseus’ longest stay in Constantinople for years. But now that those were completed he was off again.

    “Did you say goodbye to Mom?” she asked.

    Odysseus turned and looked at her. “I did, just before now.”

    “Good. She does like seeing you.”

    “She’s free to visit me in the country.”

    “So I assume you’re not going to back here anytime soon.”

    “Nope. You have all the paperwork you need?” Odysseus had proclaimed her as Regent while he was out of the capital, with full authority to perform any acts or deeds she thought necessary. Athena nodded. “Good.”

    He stepped forward and the two embraced, breaking the hug after a moment. “Don’t spend too much time here,” he said.

    “I won’t.” The White Palace was situated where it caught the sea breezes which helped keep the air fresh, but they’d been unusually weak the last few days, meaning that the fetid stench of Constantinople in the summer was getting noticeable. The Sweet Waters had been developed originally as a retreat just to get away from the stink. And right now the whiff of human excrement on the air was…personally sensitive.

    But there was more to it than just the smell. “This place murdered Father,” she said, voicing the thought they were both thinking, had been thinking, for a long time, but had never voiced aloud before. Now some of that might be blamed on Demetrios, who for all his brilliance wasn’t that good at delegating responsibility, and the accompanying stress, whether out of a sense of duty or from having more faith in his own competence as opposed to others, and so the great pressures of the position and the times had squeezed him down to nothing. On the other hand, it certainly felt like Constantinople had been actively making the pressure worse a lot of the time, and Athena was certainly overwhelmingly biased in favor of her father.

    “It didn’t even have the decency to do it quickly. It just ground him up bit by bit, until nothing but a husk was left,” Odysseus added. He looked at her. “Do you need me to stay? I will for you. No one else, but I will for you.”

    Athena smiled sadly. “No, that’s not necessary. But thank you.” She felt the same as Odysseus, perhaps quite not so viscerally, but she felt it. This was a place of power, but she’d seen firsthand the terrible price the power could demand. “I know you need to do this.”

    “Are you sure need is the right word?”

    “Yes. Your plan is the right one, no matter what others say. Maybe it’ll fail, but it should be at least tried. It’s at least different from doing the same-old thing that’s been done for a thousand years and more. And I know you; you need to do this to be true to yourself. Because if you don’t…” She didn’t finish the sentence; they both knew what followed: you’ll end up like father.

    “Thank you.” Odysseus looked behind him. The loading of the boat was complete and the men were clearly waiting for him. The siblings embraced again. “Take care of yourself.”

    “You too. Peace be with you.”

    “Peace be with you.”

    * * *

    1639-41: The first years of Odysseus’ reign are quiet, fortunately for the Romans. The economy by mid-1639 is done contracting but growth is non-existent. Brigandage, which has always been at least a background hum due to the many remote and rugged landscapes available for shelter across the Empire, ticks up. This has an effect of shifting the economic pain as the brigands come from the cities, towns, and countryside tightly linked with the urban areas. These were the ones who were hit hardest by the crash. However to operate as brigands they move to more remote and rural areas which are less well-patrolled. Not as closely linked to the monetary economy, these areas had not been hurt as badly but now they suffer from brigand depredations. Notably the romantic image of the klepht is not common in the areas where they most often operated.

    Hunting down brigands is useful training for the army and Odysseus incorporates that into the training exercises he conducts. Odysseus wants to resume the war with Ibrahim as soon as the truce expires but knows that due to the Empire’s finances, vast great hosts are not available. He is fighting this with Eternal War level resources, meaning one big field army and that’s pretty much it. So he works to make the one field army as effective and dangerous as he can, with lots of drilling and training, shuffling officers and units to get the most capable and veteran leaders, soldiers, and formations.

    One example is the outfitting of those units detailed to go east with the captured Triune 15-pounders, magnificent pieces that are as light and maneuverable as the Roman 12-pounders but with greater range, accuracy, and firepower. Everyone familiar with their work agrees that the Triunes make the best cannon.

    One cost-saving measure involves the Polish cavalry promised to Roman service in the Treaty of Kiev in 1635 in exchange for a Roman guarantee of Polish borders. In 1635 that had seemed like a reasonable deal from Constantinople’s perspective; in 1640 it sounds like an unnecessary extravagance. The Roman exchequer doesn’t want the expense of paying and provisioning 4000 Polish heavy cavalry (the most expensive, by far, troop type) and neither Athena nor Odysseus really want to have to guarantee Polish borders. So after negotiations with the Polish ambassador it is agreed to nullify those clauses of the treaty: no border guarantees and no Polish cavalry.

    Both sides approve of this change. The Roman reasons have already been given but Queen Alexandra is also pleased. She’d never placed that much faith in the Roman guarantee given Constantinople’s distance, hence the defensive alliance with Bohemia and Hungary that she considered far more tangible. She also put out feelers to the Russians. Thus in losing the Roman guarantee, she wasn’t really losing anything.

    And in not having to send Polish cavalry, she was gaining a great deal, more than just the horsemen themselves. She and the Poles had swallowed the cession of Galicia in 1635 because they had to, but the bitter meal turned their stomachs. The loss of Casimir’s conquests had been expected and accepted, but Galicia was historic Polish land and inhabited by many Polish-speakers. It was not acceptable that it be ruled by Vlachs.

    Polish landlords had hardly treated the Polish and Ruthenian peasantry well but their new Vlach replacements did not share the peasants’ language, culture, or religion, and treated them even worse than the Polish landlords as well. By 1640 peasant flight was still just a trickle but a growing problem as Galician peasants fled for better conditions across the border. Polish-speakers made for Poland where the local landlords were quite happy for more laborers and not interested in meeting angry Vlach demands for extradition.

    Ruthenian-speakers usually made their way east into Lithuania or Scythia, both of which were quite happy to accept them. For ideological reasons, the Russians were even more annoyed by Vlach actions than the Poles. The independent-minded Russian peasantry did not care one bit for the image of peasants being run down and dragged back to horrible near-slavery conditions. Several Vlach serf-catchers who found themselves on the wrong side of the border were murdered.

    Alexandra’s prestige and authority had suffered because she was the one that signed the cession. Providing troops for the Romans who’d backed the cession was an additional and damaging humiliation and by negotiating that away, Alexandra helped make up the damage in prestige she’d suffered earlier. She really needed that boost to maintain her position as Regent. Attacking Galicia would’ve been a very popular move, but not a feasible one. Henri II was still a threat in the west and Alexandra knew that Poland needed at least one Roman-peer power to back her up, which wasn’t an option now. Prior to the change her refusal to budge on this topic had been viewed by many as weakness, but with it many of the greats of Poland reconsidered their opinion and now recognized the wisdom of her planning.

    Another factor boosting her position in 1640 is the improved response to Polish feelers from the Russians. To explain that requires pivoting momentarily to the Triple Monarchy.

    Henri II’s victory over the Lotharingians had been a great victory, for the French. The English saw very little for their efforts, with their rumblings of discontent soon making themselves felt in King’s Harbor. To mitigate them, Henri first transfers control of the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti from the Kingdom of France to the Kingdom of England. The sizeable array of plum positions this offers for profit, prestige, and power to English notables goes a long way to smooth over ruffled feathers.

    That has nothing to do with Russia or Poland. However the second action is that Henri backs English demands regarding a new trade treaty in the works between the Triple Monarchy and the Russians. Henri had initially pushed this treaty as a way of improving relations with the Russians, but the need to conciliate English public opinion trumps that.

    Novgorod, eager to revive itself as a commercial powerhouse, had been willing to concede substantial benefits to Triune merchants in the agreement to ensure a strong exchange of goods. However the Russians had insisted on equal reciprocal rights for their merchants in Triune territory. Due to the minuscule size of the Russian merchant marine it is extremely doubtful that many, if any, Russian merchants would take advantage of such rights, but it is desired simply as a matter of pride, as an assertion of equality.

    Equality with the Russians is absolutely unacceptable to the English, who reject such terms as ‘quite impertinent’. [1] Henri reluctantly backs this because he needs to in order to conciliate the English, and with that backing the trade treaty goes through without reciprocal rights for Russian merchants. But the goal of improving Triune-Russian relations is wrecked. In fact it is counter-productive as many Russians are now incensed at the Triune insult and more open to Alexandra’s and Ottokar’s warnings about the Triunes and proposals to ‘curb their unbearable insolence’.

    However neither Athena nor Odysseus are interested in the stirrings in the north. They are simply not that important right now. In February 1641, the truce with Ibrahim expires. It is time to march east.

    “Sing, Muses, of the wanderings of Odysseus…”

    [1] This is taken from OTL. When Elizabethan English were negotiating trade terms with the Muscovy of Ivan IV, they considered Russian desire for reciprocal rights (for reasons of equality and not because it was likely that non-existent Russian merchantmen would be docking in the Thames) to be impertinent.
     
    East-1641 part 1: Preparations
  • East-1641 part 1: Preparations

    It began at Troy. According to Herodotus the Persians said that the quarrel between the Hellenic and Persian races began when, for the sake of a woman, the Hellenes sent forth a great armament against the land of Priam and destroyed it. [1] Modern historians may disagree with the writing there by their ancient predecessor, but the penultimate war between Rhomania and Persia also began, in a way, at the site of Troy.

    Odysseus had spent the year-and-a-half as Emperor crisscrossing the Asian parts of the Roman heartland, from Nicaea to Trebizond to Antioch and back. Most of it was spent overseeing military exercises and preparing for the coming campaign, while the actual administration of the Empire as a whole was overseen by his sister. Only in elements that directly impacted the war-planning did Odysseus take the reins, such as in the negotiations with the Georgians that took place in Trebizond.

    However before the truce expired, Odysseus returned to the west of Anatolia and placed himself at the top of a hill in the Kephalate of Skammandros, one that overlooked the Hellespont. His father, then a young junior official, had sat atop that hill and written a letter wondering about the stories the stones here could tell if they could speak. While Demetrios wrote, Odysseus painted. He painted two landscape paintings, one overlooking the sea and the other the land from his vantage point. These, the first in his remarkable and famous ‘Campaign Paintings’, were sent to Athena in Constantinople before he marched back east.

    That hill had once been fabled Troy.

    * * *

    Estate near Prousa, January 18, 1641:

    Odysseus and Maria walked around another bend of the footpath which led from the nearest garden area back to the main house, which was now in sight. It was a cool but clear day and they’d spent an hour or so walking over parts of the estate, the largest that belonged to them as persons, as opposed to Imperial grants. The conversation had been entirely about economic management.

    Odysseus did not see his wife or his two sons, Herakleios now nearing 9 years old, and Demetrios, approaching his 2nd birthday, very often. The hesychastic retreats and army encampments where he spent most of his days were no place for two small boys, and while there were women at the latter, they were of a type far more comparable to Maria in her past life, before she was Maria. But there was more to it than that.

    He looked over at Maria, the two maintaining their pace. She was still stunningly beautiful, but the lust, to be blunt but accurate, he’d felt before when he looked at her was gone. It was replaced by shame, guilt, regret. It wasn’t the war, but just some more years, some more experience, that let him see what his young lust for a beautiful older woman, the lover of his brother-in-all-but-name, had ensured he could not then, before it was too late.

    “You never did love me, did you?” he asked.

    Maria stiffened but didn’t break her stride. “No, no I didn’t. Warmth yes, affection, but never love.”

    “Thank you for not lying to me.”

    “No point in doing so. If you wanted the lie, you could’ve just continued to not ask the question.”

    “Fair enough.” They were nearing the main house now. “But did you love…him?”

    A pause. “Yes, yes I did.”

    “Me too.” They were at the front gate now. “I’m sorry, Maria. I know it’s a decade too late and it’s no good anyway but I’m sorry. Yes, you said yes but it’s not like you really had a choice. I’m sorry for what I did to you, what I forced you to do. I can’t make up for that, but I promise I’ll do what I can to make it right.”

    With that he turned and started to head for the stables. After all of that, spending the night here was definitely wrong. “Odysseus,” Maria called out to him. He turned around to look at her. “I hope you find peace someday.”

    “Me too. Thank you, Maria,” he said. But a voice in the back of his head spoke differently. Peace? For people like us that was never an option.

    * * *

    1641 continued: The ending of the truce in February was not conducive to the immediate resumption of major military operations. Trying to move large numbers of troops across Anatolia in winter, especially over the elevated central plateau, is difficult even when everything cooperates and the Little Ice Age, while not fully baring its teeth, is starting to bite. And even if the Romans did manage that, then they would be advancing right as winter runoff swells the Euphrates and Tigris and massively increases their flood risk.

    Major troop movements from western Anatolia thus do not start until well after the truce has expired, with the first few months of renewed warfare consisting of intensified cavalry skirmishes and raids. A key component for the Romans in this warfare are auxiliaries from their various allied Bedouin tribes such as the Anizzah. Another is the Turkopouloi, the regular light cavalry contingents of the tagmata, drawn primarily from the herdsmen of central and eastern Anatolia in Asia and Vlach or Albanian pastoralists in Europe. These pastoralist groups, peripatetic nomads who operate on the fringes of or within the margins of the agricultural settled components of the Empire, are an important if often unruly part of the Empire.

    The term ‘Turkopouloi’, sons of Turks, in this context can lead to some confusion. The nomadic herders of central Anatolia are largely descended from various Turkoman groups who remained in Anatolia after the Laskarid re-conquest, converting to Orthodoxy and speaking Greek (with more Turkish loanwords than is the case for Aegean-basin dialects), but retaining much of their material lifeways. However there was substantial intermarriage between the Turkomans and others, and some of these are Greeks who adopted the lifestyle. As one goes east, the Greco-Turkish mixture of the central plateau gains substantial Armenian and especially Kurdish components, with the odd Caucasian and even Mongol dash (from the days of the Il-Khanate).

    And all these various nomadic groups flow around and rub shoulders (and more) with the settled agricultural regions such as the areas around Ikonion and Sebastea, which are just as ethnically mixed. One reported advantage of the Romans classifying everyone on the basis of religion and occupation as opposed to ethnicity is that the former is substantially less paperwork.

    Notably the Ottoman setup is very similar. They also have many nomadic pastoral groups operating within the territories delineated as under their control on political maps. Operating in the more rugged terrain suitable for grazing but not growing crops between the areas of settled agriculture, the pastoralists in both Empires are effective sources of animal products, skilled and effective light troops (mostly cavalry, but mountaineer herders in both are dangerous light infantry), and headaches for the central government. The constant battle and negotiation between the ‘desert’ and the sown is a continual undercurrent in both societies.

    Western countries are not immune from similar pressures, although to lesser extents. There are the great sheep drives on the Spanish Meseta, an important component of the Spanish economy but always a source of headaches from the disputes between herders and farmers. In Italy, there are also sheep drives from winter to summer pastures that traverse the length of the peninsula, ignoring political borders, and which the local powers all agree are too important to be interrupted by war. In Hungary there are the great cattle drives, moving livestock from the plains to the hungry markets of southern Germany. And in northern Europe, there are the cattle drives from Denmark and northern Germany, where cattle, hungry after the long winter, are moved west to graze in the pastures of northern Lotharingia and fatten up before being driven to the great mart of Antwerp. Smaller examples also abound, such as the sheepherders of the Massif Central.

    The main Roman field army that masses in Upper Mesopotamia is roughly 70,000 strong, including the attached auxiliaries, although there are also some kastron troops, militia, and short-term irregulars that help provide security for communications and logistics. Its target is Mesopotamia proper.

    Meanwhile there is an Egyptian army eighteen thousand strong whose objective is the various interior Syrian lands that have been held by the Ottomans during the Truce. The Egyptians face no regular Ottoman troops, just local levies and allied Bedouins, although the Egyptians have Bedouin allies as well. The Romans offered three tourmai to reinforce the Egyptians but they declined, suspecting (rightly) that if Roman troops were present, they would demand being in the lead at the eventual capture of Jerusalem, despite being a small fraction of the army. Given the recent religious tensions stirred up by Ibrahim regarding holy sites and religious properties, the Coptic Egyptians find that unacceptable. If they’re doing all or the bulk of the work, they will get the credit for reclaiming Jerusalem.

    The Georgians meanwhile are invading their former trans-Aras lands with 30,000 men with their chief target the city of Tabriz. With Ibrahim focusing the bulk of his strength in Mesopotamia, they have substantial numerical superiority. However the terrain is an absolute nightmare, making the going slow.

    There are no Omani or Ethiopian forces in motion. The Omani had insisted on being ceded Hormuz, which had been seized by Iskandar the Great from them early in his career. However Odysseus is intent on placing Iskandar the Younger on the Persian throne. To Odysseus, Iskandar the Younger is his younger brother just as Andreas III was his elder brother. He will not give his younger brother a mutilated prize, with only the status of Mesopotamia a question mark, and that is the end of the discussion. The Omani, thus seeing no benefit for themselves in the contest, decide to stay out. The Ethiopians, seeing things the same as their Omani allies, also remain neutral.

    Neither Odysseus nor Athena are bothered by this. Gonder and Muscat are operating on the principle of self-interest. For Constantinople to complain would be transparent and utter hypocrisy and to make a diplomatic issue out of it would not be in Rhomania’s best interest. The two neutrals wouldn’t have been sending forces to Mesopotamia, where everyone knows the main event will be; everything else is a sideshow which will not affect the general outcome no matter which way they go.

    With the tagmata of western Anatolia on the scene and the Egyptians and Georgians beginning their own pushes, the army commanded by Odysseus Sideros musters out for Mosul, the first obstacle on their march to the east.


    [1] Herodotus, Book 1, Paragraphs 4-5, translated by G.C Macaulay and revised by Donald Lateiner, (Barnes & Nobles Classic: New York), 2004.
     
    East-1641 part 2: Qara Tappa
  • East-1641 part 2: Qara Tappa

    Mosul’s fortifications were not pretty, radiating the powerful beauty that so often draws tourists to the mighty citadels of yesteryear. They were made of earth, ugly but cheap and plentiful while still an excellent absorber of cannonballs. Erosion meant that earthen fortifications were short-lived and needed constant upkeep, but everyone paying attention to the Roman-Ottoman frontier in 1641 knew both where and when the hammer blow would, indeed must, fall. Surprise was never an option.

    Odysseus’ war goals are fairly straightforward, at least in principle. The pre-war Roman border must be restored, some sort of settlement regarding Mesopotamia enforced (historians debate when Odysseus envisioned his final form of this), and Iskandar the Younger put on the throne of his father and namesake. The final proviso is what makes efforts, both by Ibrahim and by some on the Roman side, to preempt the renewed war with a peace utterly futile. Ibrahim was willing to return the Roman territory and write off the already-lost lands in Northern Mesopotamia. He might’ve been willing to even cede Mosul provided he got Iskandar’s head in exchange, but Odysseus was certainly not willing to countenance that, and Ibrahim is not about to yield his throne and his life to his younger brother without a fight.

    Both sides’ field armies are evenly matched, both having around 70,000 men, plus auxiliaries and garrisons. The Roman side has an overall advantage in that in Syria and the trans-Aras, their allies have the edge, but the main issue will be decided in Mesopotamia. The comparatively smaller armies of both sides shows the exhaustion of both Empires, which have spent the better part of the last 40+ years in expensive, bloody, and grueling warfare. Rhomania had an edge in that but the ongoing economic depression wiped out much of that lead.

    Rhomania still has an edge, particularly in the area of equipment and the ability to replace it. Odysseus’s starting force is deliberately composed to be the best in both manpower and material of that available to him, but losses in both categories can be replaced to some extent. Ibrahim’s equipment roster is both less developed (his men-to-cannon ratio is 75% that of Odysseus) and its reserve capabilities are substantially weaker, although it must be noted that compared to anyone other than the Romans, Triunes, and Spanish the Ottoman setup is still extremely impressive.

    Ibrahim’s plan is to buy for time, to drag the war out and make it as costly in blood and gold as possible. He knows the Romans are war-weary; if he can wear them down they may be willing to accept more reasonable terms from his perspective.

    It has been noticed by historians of the era that Ibrahim’s strategy is similar to that of Albrecht III in trying to deal with an attack by a larger power. Leaving aside the fact that the power differential is much smaller in Ibrahim’s case, a key difference is also that for Ibrahim, his people are much more invested in resisting the invader than was the case with Albrecht’s Lotharingians. However his strategy has its own serious flaw. Unaware of the personal connection between Odysseus and Iskandar, Ibrahim believes that the Basileus views his younger brother as a political pawn, to be disposed if the cost of playing it becomes too much. But Odysseus’ support is not a political calculation, or at least not just one. It is a sacred promise, and those Odysseus Sideros fulfills.

    Once the Romans start moving in earnest, it doesn’t take long before they are setting up siege works outside Mosul. The task will not be easy. Aside from the fortifications, the garrison is numerous, well-equipped and supplied, and motivated to resist. The city is on the left bank of the Tigris, where the Roman army entrenches. Gun batteries south of the city can interdict Ottoman resupply via the river, but they’re not as effective as they would be if there was also a right-bank presence. However to create one would mean splitting the army and allowing opportunities for defeat in detail, which Odysseus is not willing to risk at this time.

    Ibrahim comes up from the south also on the left-bank of the river, encamping a day’s march from the city. Skirmishing is near-constant between the two forces. Ibrahim, trusting in the Ottoman soldiery’s deserved reputation for field fortification construction, hopes to lure Odysseus into assaulting his camp. Odysseus would prefer to avoid that and hopes to lure Ibrahim out into a field battle by pressing Mosul harshly enough that Ibrahim must move to succor the city.

    However with Ibrahim’s constant pressure diverting energy from the siege, the Romans are unable to make substantial headway against Mosul’s massive defenses. Both sides’ cavalry snip at the other’s supply lines, both scoring minor successes but nothing even approaching decisive. Logistics are difficult for both, but more pressing for the Romans since they are trying to prosecute an active siege. A single 50-pounder Elephant siege cannon over an active day can use a literal ton of gunpowder, never mind all the other supplies required. The large siege train requires a great many draft animals, which need fodder. The list of things needed is enormous and constant. Overall, the Roman logistical system holds up, but there is definite and inevitable fraying at the edges.

    Despite the lack of major battles or assault, there is a steady string of casualties on both sides, not just from combat but also accidents and illnesses. One Tourmarch is invalided back to Edessa after going mad from ‘too much heat on the brain’. This is turning into a war of attrition, and a distinctively unproductive one from the Roman perspective. In early September, Odysseus decides he must change his strategy. He can’t deal with either Mosul or Ibrahim with the other one about; one has to be eliminated, and frankly Ibrahim is easier to eliminate with a sudden surge.

    Trying to maneuver around Ibrahim to get south of him isn’t an option since that will uncover the siege force investing Mosul. Plus using Mosul as a supply depot, Ibrahim could surge north into Roman Mesopotamia and cause all kinds of havoc with Roman logistics. The last thing Odysseus wants is still having to assault an entrenched Ottoman army, but having to do so hurriedly because it’s sitting on his supply lines. The only option available is to accept Ibrahim’s gambit and try and pry him out of his shell.

    Still Odysseus intends to cooperate with Ibrahim’s ambitions no more than he has to do. During the night of September 9, the bulk of the Roman army breaks camp and heads south in several columns, marching through the night. The high caliber of the Roman army and leadership shines through in this operation. Despite the unavoidable complexity of the marches, which required staggered departure times to avoid congestion and to ensure that different units taking different routes to different destinations all arrive at roughly the same time, all done in the dark and with strenuous efforts to curb noise, it succeeds masterfully. No units get lost and while there are the inevitable delays, the unavoidable friction that bedevils any military operation, these are dealt with expeditiously. All units are at their designated endpoints no more than an hour behind schedule.

    The Romans are sleep-deprived as they form up for battle, despite Odysseus’ efforts to ensure they were well-rested the day before the march began. However they have been fed. During two rest breaks during the night the soldiers all got light meals. They had to be cold, chicken-and-cheese monems with a packet of raisins, washed down with an extra wine ration, but it is certainly better than nothing. A sign of the attention to detail of this operation is that while it was proposed that the second meal include nuts with the raisins to provide an energy boost for the soldiers as they enter battle, it was quickly realized that 50,000 men all crunching on nuts at the same time would make quite the racket and make stealth impossible.

    The Ottomans are alarmed to see the Roman army appear before their battlements at dawn on September 10. Surprise is not total; it is impossible to fully mask the approach of 50,000 men and the Roman soldiers that are behind schedule make it impossible to attack right at dawn as Odysseus had hoped (but also expected would not be possible). Still, as they pour out of their tents the Ottomans are immediately discomfited, dismayed at the Romans’ sudden appearance. While they have gotten their night sleep there is no time to feed them breakfast and there are no ‘cold rations’ that can be quickly distributed. (Roman field manuals argue for having some type of ‘quick-food’ that doesn’t require any preparations, can be quickly doled out, and consumed on station for situations like these. In the 1600s raisin packets are preferred; they aren’t much but they’re better than nothing. In later centuries chocolate bars replace them, which results in some very weird candy commercials in Roman advertising.)

    The ensuing battle is known as the battle of Qara Tappa after the village that is at the center of the Ottoman encampment. (The village was destroyed during the battle and the former inhabitants relocated to the site occupied by the modern village on the east side of the Tigris.) Both armies are in a crescent formation, arrayed north to south, with the Ottomans to the east and having the Tigris River at their backs.

    Once the Romans are all in position, they attack all along the line, the fighting thick and hot and bloody. The general assault is to keep Ibrahim from focusing his reserves, but Odysseus’ planned main assault is in the north, on his left wing, where the bulk of the Roman artillery is massed. Ideally Odysseus would’ve concentrated his attack on his southern right wing, since that would force an Ottoman retreat north toward Roman territory where the Shah could be isolated and destroyed. However that would’ve required the artillery, the slowest and most cumbersome portion of his army, having to make the longest night march in an already difficult operation. Recognizing that the perfect is the enemy of the good, he’d settled for the left wing option.

    Elsewhere the Roman attacks are repulsed with heavy losses but here with the massed artillery support, the Romans punch through the Ottoman defenses. Recognizing that their defensive position’s integrity is fatally compromised, neither Ibrahim nor the Ottoman soldiery panic. The Roman advance is still slow, getting tangled up in obstructions, both those of the camp and those new ones hastily thrown up by the retreating Ottomans, and here the Romans no longer have their artillery support.

    Forming their reserves into a solid fist, the Ottomans launch their own assault on the Romans in the south. The Romans had expected this, but underestimated the power and more importantly the speed with which the Ottomans pivot to this strategy. The Opsikian tagma is struck head-on by three times its number of opponents and badly mauled before the Romans are able to shift substantial reinforcements down the line to support.

    However the Opsikians, while bloodily shoved aside, don’t break either. They take up a flanking position to the Ottoman breakout and put in a frustrating long-range fire. The Ottomans don’t have the time to shove the Opsikians back out of range so they just take the punishment as they move out. When reinforcements arrive the Romans counterattack, hoping to pin the Ottomans in place with the goal of forcing a field engagement in the open. However with the punishment the Opsikians just took and the many Roman soldiers working their way through the tangle of the Ottoman camp, the Romans here lack the strength to keep them in place. A good portion of the Ottoman army makes it free and clear.

    The battle is, considering the number of combatants, proportionally bloody. Out of 51,000 Romans, ten thousand are casualties, testimony to the stout defense the Ottomans gave. They also lose 11 three-pounder cannons, all from the Opsikians. Five were captured by the Ottomans and carried off as prizes while the other six were spiked to avoid that fate.

    Ottoman casualties of battle are noticeably lower, around 4500, unsurprising since they were mostly fighting behind earthworks. However eleven thousand are taken prisoner, mostly from the units that held the perimeter while the reserves broke out to the south. More devastating is the loss of nearly all of the Ottoman army’s equipment, from the 103 cannons lost (all but 15 are successfully spiked by the Ottoman artillerists before the Romans take them) to the kettle pots used for cooking squad rations over the campfire. Ibrahim and his army are not out for the count, but they have to withdraw to Baghdad to reequip and lick their wounds. They will be unable to support Mosul for some time. Another issue that can’t be remedied by the Baghdad arsenal is the blow to morale; Qara Tappa shows that while they can make the Romans pay dearly for the effort, the Romans can punch through even high-quality Ottoman fortifications.

    Odysseus does not try to pursue the retreating Ottomans past nightfall on September 10 for several reasons. Firstly he has the large haul of prisoners that need to be managed. Secondly, due to the need to travel light the foodstuffs carried by the Romans have already all been eaten during the night march, so their post-battle meal is scrounged from captured Ottoman rations, of which there are not many since the retreating soldiers successfully destroyed much of what they could not take.

    Finally, with the bulk of his army here, the Roman besiegers of Mosul are actually outnumbered by the Mosul garrison, a situation Odysseus has no wish to continue given the danger that represents to the masking force. Given the good order the Ottomans displayed on their retreat, breaking them quickly is not possible, and so the Romans instead return north to the siege lines of Mosul. The surge south had been so well conducted that the Mosul garrison did not realize the bulk of the Roman army was gone until they saw said bulk marching back into position.

    * * *

    Near Mosul, September 14, 1641:

    Iskandar looked out at the encampment they were approaching, the background noise of men riding horses behind him. It was where some of the captured Ottoman soldiers had been barracked for the time being. It was a crude ramshackle affair, with the only serious attention having been given to the gun batteries overlooking it. He looked over to the rider on his left.

    Odysseus Sideros looked at the camp entrance. “Alright, gentlemen, that’s enough. Everyone dismount.” Behind them were many of the high-ranking officers in the Roman army, who at their Basileus’ word started getting off their mounts, grooms taking their reins in hand. Once they were ready the group started forward again, everyone on foot save the two on horse in front, Odysseus and Iskandar.

    “Are you ready?” Odysseus asked.

    “We’ll find out,” Iskandar replied, trying to sound calmer then he felt.

    “Fair enough.” Together the Basileus and would-be Shahanshah, side by side, rode towards the camp that lay to the east.
     
    East-1641 part 3: Mosul
  • East-1641 Part 3: Mosul

    Near Mosul, September 14, 1641:

    Odysseus and Iskandar rode into the Ottoman prisoner encampment, followed on foot by a few dozen Romans, Strategoi and staff officers and the like. The ‘gate’ was little more than a gap in the earthen embankment and ditch that surrounded the camp, the opening covered by a pair of gun batteries and some earth platforms with guards atop them. This was the largest of the hastily constructed camps with 3000 prisoners, including the most senior.

    There was a large open area at the gate, the field surrounded by a ring of Roman soldiers, muskets and ambrolars at the ready. The most senior captured Ottoman soldiers, clad in dusty but still fine-quality and colorful robes and turbans, were standing at the head of the field where it gave way to the shelters. They’d been alerted to expect the visit. The rank and file prisoners were arrayed in the gaps between their shelters, and notably they were all sitting, a subtle but obvious signal of defiance.

    The Romans approached the elite Ottomans and they bowed slightly to Odysseus. “Greetings, your Imperial Majesty,” one replied, speaking Greek with a perfect Antioch accent, typical of prominent Ottomans. This was Suleiman Pasha, the senior-most Ottoman commander. His sunbaked leathery skin was heavily wrinkled, but his stocky build was still muscle and not fat, with his eyes shining brightly.

    “Greetings, Suleiman Pasha,” Odysseus replied. “There is someone here who would speak with you.” He gestured at Iskandar.

    For the first time, Suleiman actually looked at Iskandar. Iskandar drew himself up in the saddle and spoke loudly in Persian. “I am Iskandar, son of Iskandar the Great, Shahanshah and the Heir of the House of Osman, and I have come to claim what belongs to me.” There were murmurs in the crowd as those up front relayed what he said to those further back.

    “You do resemble him,” Suleiman granted, still speaking in Greek. “I believe you are his son in body. But a faithful son of Iskandar would not be a Roman puppet.”

    “I am no puppet,” Iskandar replied quietly in Greek. Then he raised his voice again and switched to Persian. “I am a Prince of Persia. I have no loyalty whatsoever to Rhomania. I am here to ensure that Persia continues to stand proud and prosperous and independent.” From his knapsack he pulled out a book, holding it up to show it to the crowd. He then opened it, showing some of the pages to Suleiman. “This is the Qur’an.” Suleiman signaled that he was speaking the truth. Iskandar placed his hand on the holy text. “I swear, by God, that I am speaking the truth. If Rhomania be an enemy to this goal, then it shall have me as an enemy.” There was a murmur of approval from the Ottoman soldiery.

    “Better,” Suleiman conceded, still speaking in Greek. “But your surroundings and companions still make me wary.”

    “He speaks the truth,” Odysseus said. He gestured behind him, motioning forward a priest that was a member of the entourage. “I have no desire to enslave or destroy Persia. I am here because of a promise I made to him, to help him reclaim what belongs to him.” The priest arrived, opening a package he was carrying, and displayed its contents to Suleiman. It was an Icon of St. Giorgios, revered by Roman soldiers and venerated by Muslims as well as Christians. Odysseus placed his hand on the icon. “I swear, by God, that what I have said is the truth.”

    “Your words are good,” Suleiman answered, still in Greek. “But sweeteners are often added to cover up the poison underneath. You do not expect me to believe that your aid is entirely free and without any self-interest?”

    “Not at all,” Odysseus replied. “We Romans and Persians best of all know the ways of wars and empires. Border territories will change hands, but that is the way of the world. I have no desire to see Persia enslaved or destroyed. Rome and Persia are both ancient ones, still living in a world that has changed. For one to destroy the other would leave the survivor alone, and soon to perish afterward. I would not have that. Iskandar has his goals, and he will not find me an enemy to them.”

    Suleiman looked at the two of them, musing for a moment. “Very well then,” he finally replied, speaking for the first time in Persian as he looked at Iskandar. “I believe you. What do you propose?”

    * * *​

    1641 continued: With Suleiman Pasha’s support, most of the Ottoman prisoners are willing to enter Iskandar’s service. Considering that the alternative was to be effectively Roman state-owned slaves, that is not perhaps surprising. However while Iskandar the Younger now has an army of sorts, it is not at the moment armed and it remains so for some time. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the Romans are understandably wary of giving their recent opponents weaponry before they are certain where the Ottomans will point them.

    The other reason is a bit more complicated. The Ottoman soldiers have expressed a willingness to fight for Iskandar. They are not willing to fight for Rhomania, and those are two very different things. That the Romans will want pieces of Mesopotamia is expected, but in that case the Romans can do the fighting for it. The Ottomans here have no intention of helping with that. The desired post-war settlement for Mesopotamia does not seem to be established yet. Therefore the Ottomans under Iskandar will not fight in Mesopotamia, because it is likely they would be fighting for the Romans. Meanwhile Persia, where they would be fighting for Iskandar and not for the Romans, is a different matter.

    Some Romans are bothered by this, but Iskandar makes it emphatically clear he will not support using any of his men in areas that will likely benefit the Romans in the post-war treaty. Both Odysseus and Iskandar are aware of the Khusrau II precedent and its pitfalls. Because of Khusrau II’s reputation as a Roman puppet, for the sake of his legitimacy he had to attack the Romans when the opportunity presented itself after Maurice’s deposition. To try and avoid that, the two are working as much as possible to strangle the ‘Roman puppet’ image in its cradle. Iskandar and his new ‘army’ are treated as if they were an allied contingent commanded by an allied (and not subordinate) monarch.

    The Mosul garrison does not surrender after the battle of Qara Tappa and remains loyal to Ibrahim. Given the history of the region going back to the late 1200s with the expulsion of the pro-Osman Turks by Alexios Philanthropenos, local forces are not willing to bow to Romans or those they perceive as Roman puppets. (Iskandar’s success with winning supporters is entirely with those from Persia who have much less historical baggage.) The city will still need to be reduced.

    Even with Ibrahim knocked back it is a difficult task, but with the lack of outside pressure progress is steadily made. On October 8, practicable breaches are finally smashed through the city defenses and a final demand for surrender issued. Everyone on both sides knows what will happen if the demand is refused. It is refused.

    Odysseus said he did not come to enslave or destroy Persia. But that does not mean he would show mercy to those who defied him or stood in his way. And per the laws of war he has absolutely no obligation to show any.

    Mosul is stormed, but the city does not go down quietly. The Romans need three days to crush all the opposition within Mosul, and it is at a cost of thousands of casualties. For three days afterwards (although it had started earlier in already conquered districts) Mosul and its inhabitants are given over to the storming raging Roman army, to sword and terror.

    * * *​

    Near Mosul, October 16, 1641:

    Odysseus looked up from the canvas to gaze again upon the scene before him. He was working on another painting, trying to show more of regular camp life. Some Bedouin auxiliaries were herding sheep, a mobile larder for the army. Nearby a cook was brewing up stew over a campfire, with the regular racket of an army encampment rising all around.

    He looked behind him at the smoldering corpse-choked mass that was the ruin of Mosul. It’d been costly, but it was an important victory. A great step, but also just a step.

    He had made many promises. He had made a promise to his elder brother, and a promise to his younger brother, and another to his wife.

    And one to his father, as he lay his body to rest in that riverbed. Odysseus had known of his father’s wishes, although Demetrios had never said so in so many words, but he had not needed to do so. They all knew. And for all Demetrios’ insane genius, Odysseus was unsure if he would succeed. Unless…And so Odysseus had made another promise there, to ensure that Demetrios’ wish would be fulfilled, in the only way Odysseus knew how.

    Mosul had been an important step, but still just a step. All those promises remained unfulfilled.

    But once those were done, then he had one more promise, this one to himself. He looked forward to that day.

    The smell of the broiling stew wafted over, making his stomach growl. Odysseus started gathering up his art supplies. His own dinner was being prepared, and he wanted it. Once packed, he headed off towards it. It lay to the east.
     
    East-1641 & 1642: The Realm of Mesopotamia
  • East-1641 & 1642: The Realm of Mesopotamia

    1641 continued: There is a hiatus after the fall of Mosul. Despite the substantial stockpiling of supplies during the truce, the sheer amount of material needed to reduce the city had exceeded even the Romans’ most pessimistic projections. There is a forced lull as materials are brought forward, the Romans not advancing until mid-November, a month after the fall of Mosul. Odysseus intends to campaign without any stint in winter quarters, firstly to keep the pressure up on Ibrahim and also to make up for the extended stall at Mosul.

    The advance is slow but steady. The various towns and cities of northern Mesopotamia are mostly fortified, but none nearly to the size and extent of Mosul. However even a small fortified town can tie up a tagma for at least a week in a regular siege; things could be sped up through more aggressive tactics, but that trades time for blood, a lot of blood, and Odysseus is not willing to make that exchange.

    The goal is to get as many of these minor-but-cannot-be-ignored strongholds to surrender quickly, and to that end Odysseus employs what is now called a ‘chocolate cake or chainsaw’ approach, essentially a carrot and stick approach but more extreme. Those places that surrender promptly are treated extremely leniently while those that resist receive absolutely no mercy. The effectiveness of the strategy is questionable. Many of the townspeople are divided in how to respond, but when they debate, the delay is often long enough that it is viewed as resistance, meaning it’s the chainsaw, and so the townspeople resist to the bitter end. It is estimated that at least a fifth, and likely more, of the population of northern Mesopotamia, is killed, either directly or indirectly, by the Romans over the course of 1641. While Roman offensives into the region have always been devastating, the scale is unprecedented.

    Iskandar is there very publicly trying to encourage the locals to surrender promptly, but with little success. Most of his new followers remain around Mosul, although in nicer lodgings with some of them practicing their peacetime trades for the time-being. Because they won’t fight in Mesopotamia, marching them alongside the Roman army would be a very large logistical burden to an already-strained system, for no tactical purpose. Furthermore their non-fighting while the Romans are right there bleeding would certainly spark resentment among the Roman soldiers, which Odysseus and Iskandar really don’t want.

    The downside is that during this stage of the war, Iskandar is accompanied only by a bodyguard and senior retainers and entourage. The size disparity between the large Roman army and Iskandar’s small train means the ‘I am not a Roman puppet’ is a hard sell, while Iskandar’s retainers are Persians, lacking the personal contacts with the local Mesopotamians that might be able to overcome that obstacle.

    The responses thus vary wildly. Some do come over to join Iskandar’s service, but under the same terms as those of the captives from Qara Tappa. Others take the chocolate cake. But many choose, or are forced to resist. One garrison commander who certainly knows his audience retorts that he will surrender to Roman rule when the Romans accept a German Catholic as their Emperor.

    Over in Syria the Egyptians are making good progress, with Jerusalem falling with relatively little bloodshed while the Romans were stalled at Mosul. The Egyptian leadership held a public service of thanksgiving in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Orthodox clergy giving way with extremely obvious bad grace. At the same time delegates from the Coptic Patriarch, the Ethiopian Abun, and the Armenian Katholikos are in Constantinople for negotiations regarding the settlement of religious properties in the Holy Land.

    The Roman advance, while successful, is slowly whittling away at the Roman army. Garrisons need to be manned and extending supply and communication lines need to be guarded. Even in the absence of major battles or sieges, the steady wastage from disease, accidents, and skirmishes are ever constant. Reinforcements come in from Anatolia but since the initial army was specifically composed of the elite, even very good replacements mark a net loss in quality.

    Furthermore the reinforcements don’t quite make up for all the various elements that are siphoning strength away from the field army. The harvest in both Roman Europe and Anatolia in 1641 is bad, ruined by poor weather, with only Thrace and Bithynia performing better in the sense that their harvests are rated as mediocre. While harvest failures are a regular occurrence, usually they do not affect more than 2-3 themes; a shortfall on this level is much rarer and lacks the leeway in the more typical harvest failure. This is always a precarious moment in pre-industrial societies, with bread prices climbing rapidly to be followed by the inevitable bread riots.

    While Romans with some resources can eke through one bad harvest, those already on the margins cannot. It is estimated that around 1% of the Roman heartland’s population, about 150,000, perish as a result, primarily in the countryside that lacks the bulk import structure for foodstuffs, and mainly the very old and very young. (Such crises and demographic blows are common in pre-industrial societies where food scarcity is rampant to a degree people in modern developed societies can barely imagine.) Athena, who is concerned about maintaining security and stability in the provinces, is reluctant to part with too many soldiers.

    1642: Odysseus’ feelings on his sister’s actions are unknown but he continues the offensive, the Roman army of some 55000 soldiers setting up their first trenches around Baghdad in February. Baghdad does not have the sheer quality of Mosul’s fortifications but it does have modern defenses and is much bigger than Mosul. With its population swelled by refugees from the north, the inhabitants number at over 400,000, making Baghdad bigger than Constantinople.

    That is a weakness, not a strength. In terms of fighting ability, many of the four hundred thousand are useless, but they all have mouths and bellies, and supplies are limited. The Romans prosecute an active siege rather just a blockade, but it seems quite likely that hunger, not cannonades, will force Baghdad to surrender.

    Ibrahim is active in the area with a rebuilt field army which is comparable in size to the Romans. He is suffering from manpower issues the same as the Romans, although his combat losses have been heavier, but that is compensated by his home field advantage. The basic setup is similar to Mosul, but Ibrahim’s strategy has changed. Baghdad can’t hold out like extensively prepared Mosul had, and given Qara Tappa Ibrahim is less confident in field fortifications. With the Ottoman troops demoralized by the reverses of 1641, he needs a win to boost their fighting spirits, and with the Romans spread out having to cover all of Baghdad’s massive circuit of defenses, a fight in the open is more appealing.

    In a turnabout from Qara Tappa, night marches and vigorous Ottoman scout work keep the Romans from discovering the main Ottoman army until it is close. Surprise is not total, but due to the sheer size of Baghdad’s siege lines with a river bisecting them, Roman reserves are minimal and cannot move very quickly to where they are needed.

    The Ottoman attack bites deep into the Roman outer defenses but doesn’t break them; fortunately for the Romans the Ottoman artillery train is not recovered from Qara Tappa and relatively weak, a factor that likely makes the difference. The fighting is intense and bloody, fought mostly hand to hand in a tangle of Roman trenches and tents. Meanwhile a sally of the Ottoman garrison piles into the Roman lines in the attacked sector, and likewise initial success is unable to be decisive due to the poor equipment of the garrison.

    Meanwhile Roman reserves have finally worked their way across the river but rather than feeding them into the abattoir Odysseus masses them on the Ottoman right flank, using the clouds of dust and powder thrown up by the battle to hide them. Once he has enough, he lets fly. The Roman counterattack crashes into the Ottoman flank, shattering it and sending the fragments fleeing in rout. Ottoman reserves check the rout for a time and keep the Romans from rolling up the rest of their line until brought-up Roman artillery, mainly those Triune field guns, bash them enough that an ambrolar charge breaks them.

    The battle of Baghdad is like a second Qara Tappa. Roman losses are around six thousand, a heavy proportion since not all of the Roman army was engaged. Ottoman casualties, including prisoners, are sixteen thousand, mostly from the elements that had been in the initial attack and thus were unable to retreat. In terms of manpower, it is a hard but not crippling blow to Ibrahim. However he has lost much of the army’s equipment, artillery, and baggage, not to the extent of Qara Tappa, but still a great deal and the loss made even worse by it compounding the earlier. Furthermore Ibrahim no longer has the Baghdad arsenal for resupply. And lost morale is even harder to replace than lost equipment. After the battle, aside from cavalry harassment Ibrahim gives up the fight for Mesopotamia, retreating to the east side of the Zagros to lick his wounds.

    That does not end the siege of Baghdad though, which despite the retreat of the Shah refuses to surrender. There was a second garrison sally during the battle, this one attacking directly opposite from the Ottoman attack. It had been comprised of a mix of refugees from the north and madrasa students from the city, poorly-equipped and badly-trained, yet highly enthusiastic and very importantly enjoying a massive local superiority in numbers. The Roman lines had been stripped of many troops to meet Ibrahim. This attack had been very successful, spiking nineteen Roman cannon and wrecking many siege works. One contingent, making it further than others, fights its way to a hospital behind the lines where they kill over two hundred inmates and medical staff before they are driven back.

    Those who sallied are exultant at their accomplishments but more sober Baghdadi are horrified. Roman and Ottoman regulars don’t have formally agreed rules of war, but there are unspoken ones. On the battlefield, a wounded soldier is still a soldier and thus all bets are off. However medical locations, including field hospitals, are supposed to be captured, not attacked (unless they’re actively defended, in which cases all bets are again off). The captured inmates are not guaranteed proper medical care and attention, difficult to guarantee in the 1600s generally, but they can at least expect not to be beaten to death with a musket butt on their cot. The Roman soldiers are utterly seething when they hear of this. While the regulars captured from Ibrahim’s field army are treated as per the unspoken rules (they can be identified by their blue uniforms), all captives from the garrison sallies, both of them, are executed in full sight of the Baghdadi.

    The Baghdadi argue but end up choosing to continue fighting. Some are buoyed by the success of the sally. The city had supported Osman, not Ibrahim, when the two brothers fought and the inhabitants have little love for their Shah, while still hating the Romans. Many argue that they don’t need Ibrahim. From their minarets they can see practically everything that goes on in the Roman camp and they can see that their numbers, compared to the metropolis, are small. The spring rains will soon swell the river, making the siege even harder to prosecute. Feeding the massive Baghdadi population is a serious problem, but the Romans have supply issues too. Finally, and this is likely the clincher, the Baghdadi have already crossed the Rubicon and forfeited their opportunity for mercy.

    The siege of Mosul had been brutal and harsh, but it doesn’t match the ugliness of Baghdad. Prisoners on both sides are lucky if they are killed on the spot, since otherwise they can expect to be tortured to death or strapped to embankments to be killed by their own side’s fire. The level of sadism and humanity’s ingenuity when it comes to inflicting suffering on other humans is on full display on both sides, and it is this psychopathy that manifests itself most clearly here that is often the reason the conflict is named the War of Wrath.

    The swollen river hampers the Roman siege but does not stop it. Both sides suffer from inadequate supplies, but the heaviest blow by far falls on the Baghdadi poor who die by the thousands, then tens of thousands, from deprivation.

    On May 6 practical breaches are smashed into the city’s defenses and notably Odysseus does not advance a last offer to surrender. Also notably Iskandar does not make any known efforts for clemency. Unlike Mosul, resistance largely collapses once the Romans are inside the city, but still four days pass before Odysseus declares Baghdad pacified and the customary three days of license commence, so Baghdad is given over to a week of horror.

    Of the 400,000 Baghdadi in February, at least half died during the siege, mostly of starvation or disease. Exactly how many the Romans killed during the sack is unknown, but in 1645 the city is listed as only having 40,000 inhabitants, although many survivors may have emigrated before then and so are not counted.

    After the horrors of Baghdad, southern Mesopotamia is an anti-climax. With Ibrahim beyond the Zagros the area capitulates with little fuss. The Arabs who dominate the area and have a large Shia percentage are much less anti-Roman than their northern neighbors. That is not to say that they would welcome a Roman overlord, but this far south the odds of Roman annexation look substantially unlikely. The attitude is a relief to Odysseus. The mountains of corpses at Baghdad are a smorgasbord of disease, badly affecting the Roman army and further depleting its ranks. Basra surrenders to a Roman cavalry column of 2000 men, which is excellent news since besieging it with 30000 is unlikely to have succeeded.

    The fall of Basra marks a shift in the war. Mesopotamia has been conquered, even if most people are speculating, anticipating, or dreading its post-war status. Ibrahim’s might has been wounded but he is back in his Persian power base, which had backed him during the war with his brother Osman at the beginning of his reign. If Odysseus ceded Mesopotamia to Iskandar while Ibrahim still retains Persia and then stands aside, Iskandar is almost certain to suffer the same fate as Osman. Odysseus’ promise to his younger brother remains unfulfilled.

    The army that marches forth towards the Zagros is different than that which marched down Mesopotamia. The Romans are now at 30,000 men available for continued offensive, but they are not alone. Iskandar’s forces are now present and armed, mostly with captured Ottoman weaponry, but with some surplus Roman gear when necessary, their kit including artillery. They will now clearly be fighting for Iskandar, not the Romans, and thus they are willing to fight. They number 22,000 strong. Together, the armies of Odysseus and Iskandar march east.
     
    East-1642: Something New
  • East-1642: Something New

    1642 continued: It is practically a cliché that appears in all histories of the Great Expedition, the War of Wrath, or the Modern Odyssey, or whatever one wishes to call the events, that the march into Persia marked a turning point, the start of something new. Before had been ugly carnage, with the key events two grinding sieges and two bloody battles which left both sides damaged and scarred, with heavy losses for both victor and vanquished. And yet for all the blood, it was also common. Although more intense, it was war as had been waged between Rome and Persia for 1500 years in this part of the world, and as had been waged by empires earlier than them. But what comes afterward is presented as something different, nobler, more heroic, and epic, new and extraordinary-the former attributes are possibly awarded because of the latter.

    A lot of that is, to use the technical term, hogwash. History is supposed to be a presentation of the past but by inevitability it is an incomplete presentation. Part of that is because not all of the past survives to be presented. Part of that is simply a matter of practicality; a complete presentation would be as elaborate, and long, as the past itself. And another part is that what is used in the presentation is filtered through both those presenting and those receiving the presentation, through their interests and biases, desires and agendas, keeping some parts and discarding others.

    Like Herakleios’ exploits against the Persians in the early 600s, the exploits east of the Zagros in the early 1600s are often presented as a great epic. People like stories, and both cases make great stories, and so it is unsurprising that they are turned into epics. But it is important to remember that the epic is a presentation, an incomplete presentation made by leaving out the parts that are not epic. Having a bullet perforate your intestines so that you die by your own excrement slowly poisoning you is a horrible death, whether it happens west or east of the Zagros.

    Yet having said all that, there is something to the idea of epic here. In reading soldiers’ accounts, on both sides of the turning point there are the usual complaints and gripes, but there is a sensation among many that they are engaged in something new, and that is exciting. Fighting in Mesopotamia was nothing special, but what they were doing now was something that hadn’t been seen perhaps for two thousand years. If so, epic seems an appropriate word.

    (It should be noted that such an attitude applies only to the winners. The Trojan women certainly didn’t appreciate the epic quality of the war that had just concluded as they were carried off into slavery.)

    Odysseus’ and Iskandar’s initial goal for the rest of 1642 is moderate, to establish a bridgehead in the Zagros Mountains or beyond. More than that prior to the onset of winter does not seem feasible and winter campaigning in the Iranian plateau, as opposed to the plains of Mesopotamia, is not to be undertaken lightly. In addition, the Roman soldiers are weary and could use an off-season. However neither leader wants to wait until after winter 1642-43 passes before attacking Persia proper; that would give Ibrahim an entire year after the battle of Baghdad to rebuild his army and consolidate his position.

    Ibrahim’s position, while battered, is still intact and holding. While his credibility has been damaged by the loss of Mesopotamia and the defeats on the battlefield, he still has several strengths. Persia had backed Ibrahim in the war against Osman at the beginning of his reign, and Ibrahim has been on the throne since late 1624 so he has had plenty of time to secure loyalists to key positions. He is a son of Iskandar the Great, and notably the son who was with the Shahanshah when he died and was his desired successor.

    Also there is no whiff about Ibrahim of him being a Roman/Christian puppet, which cannot be said for Iskandar the Younger. Ibrahim’s defeats and Iskandar’s questionable position thus have the effect of canceling each other out. Notably those Persians who defect to Iskandar do so only after being convinced that he is not a puppet, and do so after having direct experience with Iskandar or with others who have had direct experience. Without those factors, it is easy for those in Persia to believe the rumors, which Ibrahim makes sure circulate widely. Once Iskandar is personally in Persia those factors will start to be in play, but in short neither Ibrahim nor Iskandar have a clear advantage over the other in terms of legitimacy in the Persians’ eyes.

    The initial skirmishes along the Zagros do not involve large numbers, but they are significant in that they mark the first time Iskandar’s forces actually fight for him. That they do so, and do so well, is a great relief to both Odysseus and Iskandar. While hopeful, they’d both realized that it was possible that the Persian troops had only done so at the promise of better treatment. Who knows how they might behave once back in the field? But they are loyal to Iskandar now.

    The reason for that is they have no doubt in their minds that Iskandar is not a Roman puppet. Their good treatment and seeing Iskandar’s continued insistence that they are treated as allies, not subjects, has done much to dispel doubts. In terms of pageantry and symbolism, Odysseus and Iskandar are presented as monarchs, and monarchs of equal rank, with identical number of guards, heights of banners, and the like. This is as it should be, for Shahanshahs of the Persians and Emperors of the Romans have recognized each other as equals since the offices existed.

    Defending a mountain chain such as the Zagros is not as easy as it might seem. While they provide awesome defensive advantages, there is a dangerous catch. If the passes can be held, all is well, but if somehow they can be outflanked, the defenders can be easily trapped and destroyed. The Hellenes’ experience at Thermopylae fighting against Xerxes is the most famous example of this. Ibrahim is aware of this, and it is one of the reasons for why he does not contest the mountains nearly as vigorously as might be expected. It is not the only reason though.

    The short of it is that Ibrahim has not had nearly enough time to prepare for this as he had hoped for. He needed time for his troops to recover and restore their morale, to recruit new soldiers, and to drill and equip them, and as Odysseus and Iskandar approach he is not nearly as far along as he would like. Rushing his army as it is into battle will certainly guarantee a defeat and probably make it impossible to constitute a new one afterwards.

    Defending mountain passes would be good work to bloody new troops, but the first-mentioned factor comes into play here. Ibrahim’s new recruits are coming in from all over Persia, but their recruitment is heavily dependent on Ibrahim’s pre-existing pool of veterans. Those veterans and their local contacts are crucial in encouraging potential recruits to enlist and also to buoy their morale in their early green days. Like the Roman tourmai, Ottoman troops serve in units based on their region of origin and having men that are personally and locally noted for being tough and brave and skilled soldiers is a tonic to new soldiers about to see the elephant.

    However by a twist of tactical arrangements, many of the soldiers now serving Iskandar are from regional units recruited along the Zagros. Without those veterans, Ibrahim has a harder time drawing new recruits from the area. When those two factors are combined, it means that Iskandar’s forces are more aware of the local topography than Ibrahim’s, in which case the specter of Leonidas looms alarmingly.

    So Ibrahim just skirmishes and harasses some, using a portion of the forces actually available to him. The forces attack when and where they expect success, but don’t press very far because at this stage Ibrahim needs to avoid a defeat, even a small one. With such caution, Ibrahim’s forces cause only minimal delay and damage, but his goal here is more to provide inspiration and an example for his new recruits than to harm the enemy. In that he does succeed.

    The duo’s first target is Khorramabad, for the reason that Suleiman Pasha is from the region and his relations are major figures there. Given the lack of legitimacy advantage of either Ibrahim or Iskandar vis-à-vis each other, personal connections will be of extreme importance in winning Persians to either side. In this case it pays off very well for Iskandar. Suleiman Pasha’s support wins over his family, who then suborns much of the local notables. Ibrahim’s loyalists, despairing of holding their position, flee, and Iskandar is able to march into the city with his troops without bloodshed.

    The army will winter here. Roman and Persian troops are barracked in various areas with supplies drawn from the region, with the troops kept on very strict discipline to ensure that there are no incidents. Local logistical support will be vital for the maintaining of Odysseus’s and Iskandar’s army from this point onwards; transporting food overland from Rhomania is not possible.

    Iskandar takes up residence in the Shapur-Khast Fortress, a citadel dating back to the Sassanid Empire, acting ceremonially entirely like a Shahanshah who is choosing to winter in this particular city of the Empire. Odysseus and his senior staff also take up residence in the fortress, but it is emphasized that they are staying in the guest quarters. In any formal ritual, Iskandar and Odysseus are of equal rank, with Iskandar having precedence as the resident monarch welcoming a visiting ally. Many Persians, it must be said, view this as cynical window-dressing to hide reality, but the presentation does also allay the concerns of many who are concerned about Iskandar’s Persian credentials.

    * * *

    Shapur-Khast Fortress, Khorramabad, December 22, 1642:

    Iskandar looked out over the city as it prepared for sunset which would be soon arriving. He was out on a corner of the battlements, along with Odysseus and Michael Pirokolos. The guards, both the castle and the personal monarchial ones, had retired a bit, giving the trio some space and much desired privacy.

    They looked out in silence for a time, and this time it was Michael who broke the stillness. “Three men stood atop a tower, a Basileus, a Shah, and a nobody.”

    Odysseus took up the next line of this version of their impromptu recitation. “For once, the world stepped back and let them be, these three men on a tower.”

    Iskandar followed. “Rare and beautiful the moment was, for the three against the world.”

    Michael: “Yet it could not endure.”

    Odysseus: “For the world does not understand.”

    Iskandar: “And the malice of the world is great, and requires beauty to be fleeting.”

    Michael: “Like raindrops shining in the sunlight.”

    Odysseus: “Or a flower on the pyre.”

    Iskandar: “Or a comet in the heavens.”

    Michael: “Three men stood atop a tower, a Basileus, a Shah, and a nobody.”

    Odysseus: “The world stood aside and let them be, at least for now.”

    Iskandar: “And the three said, at least for a little longer.”

    The sun set as Iskandar finished, the last rays clipping over the horizon to dazzle the lands to the east.
     
    East-1643: In the Footsteps of the Ancients
  • East-1643: In the Footsteps of the Ancients

    As Helios’s strength rains down in greater vigor upon the earth and as Demeter rejoices with the return of her daughter Persephone from the realm of Hades, so the devotees of Ares and Athena gather to perform their worship. The Roman troops have rested over the winter while Iskandar has recruited a few thousand more soldiers for himself from supporters in the Khorramabad area. Meanwhile Ibrahim has gotten his new army as ready as he can.

    It is just the three of them, Odysseus, Iskandar, and Ibrahim, as the battle moves into the heart of Persia. The Egyptian army had retaken the territories held by the Ottomans during the truce and Roman administration is in the process of reestablishing itself, as well as conducting the Great Crime, wiping out a Sunni Muslim culture in the land of Syria that was nearing its thousandth birthday. It is a good thing for Odysseus’s image that he was far away from where it was happening, absorbed in the war with Ibrahim. (That Odysseus deliberately absented himself during the Great Crime for the sake of his image, as has been suggested by some, is rejected by most Roman scholars. As Mosul and Baghdad alone show, and Rome before them, he had no qualms with bloody hands. It was just a matter of priorities.)

    The Georgian army has finally taken Tabriz and the trans-Aras lands taken from them originally by Iskandar the Great, but has not moved any further. Earlier there were some raids across the old frontier that seemed more for the sake of loot, which prompted the sufferers to declare loyalty to Iskandar in a bid to make them stop. While successful in that, afterwards the Georgians have evinced no desire to advance anymore.

    For the sake of supply and ease of movement, the army of Odysseus and Iskandar is split into two segments, with each monarch commanding their half. This could present a skilled and lucky opponent with an opportunity, but Ibrahim is most unlucky in the duo he is now facing. Odysseus had been a dangerous foe alone, and with Iskandar now acting truly as an ally and brother in arms, he is substantially more dangerous.

    Ibrahim tries to exploit the split, but it is to no avail. The duo are too well-coordinated. One segment if attacked turns turtle, stubbornly defending its position, while the other promptly wheels to aid the other, crashing into Ibrahim’s flank and driving his force from the field. Whichever portion is the one attacked does not matter; the other will be there to aid the other, wherever and whenever needed.

    To inspire his men, who need it, Ibrahim displays a heretofore unseen personal courage on the battlefield, throwing himself repeatedly into danger to rally his troops. Over the course of 1643, nine horses are killed under him, twenty-eight of his bodyguard are killed or wounded on the field, and ‘innumerable holes’ are punched in his clothing and turban, and yet he suffers not a scratch despite repeated efforts to kill him. It is Suleiman Pasha who points out the futility of the effort. It was by the decree of the sorcerer Demetrios III himself, the father of Odysseus, that the men of Odysseus and Iskandar would not have it within their power to slay Ibrahim.

    Ibrahim’s valor and immunity to bullets helps him hold his army together during the 1643 campaign and even get reinforcements for it for far longer than might otherwise be expected, but even that is not enough to turn the tide. In four great battles over the course of 1643 the duo of Odysseus and Iskandar systematically destroy the impressive might Ibrahim is able to raise against them. And while no battle between great and valorous armies can ever be neat and clean, these are sweeping battles of maneuver, not the bloody slogs of Qara Tappa and Baghdad. The soldiers of Odysseus and Iskandar bleed, but not in torrents.

    With the military tide clearly favoring Iskandar, more Persians come over to his side, especially as 1643 advances. The capital of Hamadan falls without a fight and Iskandar briefly takes up residence in the Shah’s palace, presenting himself as the Shahanshah in fact as well as in name. (For the sake of diplomacy and appearances, Odysseus and the Romans stay outside the walls of the capital.) He does not stay there for long, with the pursuit of Ibrahim continuing.

    A key note of the campaign is the speed, with both sides moving their armies at clips rarely equaled and never surpassed until the days of railroad. Necessity demands the speed. Ibrahim must keep retreating to avoid being enveloped. Iskandar and Odysseus must pursue and eliminate him, but they also cannot rest and consolidate anyway. Living off the land, the army must be constantly in motion. If it stops, it starves.

    Ibrahim attempts to exploit this weakness, but whenever he starts to scorch the earth, those Persians whose earth is getting scorched promptly support Iskandar to protect their property. Those Persians defecting to Iskandar also quickly realize that presenting supplies to the Romano-Persians promptly is highly beneficial to their own self-interest. The Romano-Persians get the supplies they need quickly without the need to forage, slowing them down, while the locals can contain the damage to their own livelihoods. Even a friendly army, if it has to forage to survive, has more similarity to a swarm of locust than anyone in its path would like.

    It is a testament to the duo’s leadership, and their men’s faith in them, that they are able to keep the army going at such a pace for so long. If metal bullets run low, pebbles will replace them. If the powder runs low, then the ambrolar will be used all the more.

    But the advance continues.

    But not all go over to Iskandar’s side, with Ibrahim still raising substantial armies until the last is destroyed in the fourth battle, at which point even Ibrahim can do no more. Some of the resistance is from stout Ibrahim loyalists, whose position under Ibrahim means their future under Iskandar is questionable. Other sources come from those alarmed by reports of the Great Crime taking place to the west and thus steeled to resist against Odysseus and Iskandar. The Roman response is that the ‘punishments’ being hurled on the Syrian Muslims are only for those who resided in pre-war Christian lands, which according to many Muslim qadis, they should have not been doing anyway, and are not meant for those Muslims who live in the Dar al-Islam. The effectiveness of this argument is questionable. Another source of resistance to Iskandar which overlaps with the former are hardline Muslims who won’t tolerate any whiff of Christianity around their ruler, no matter how many oaths Iskandar swears on a Qur’an.

    Much ink has been split on who is to blame for the brutalities that follow. These holdouts for Ibrahim are utterly destroyed if they resist, with the ruthlessness increasing as the tide turns ever in Iskandar’s favor. Some scholars attribute it to Odysseus, who has already demonstrated a capacity for extreme ruthlessness for those who hold out against him. But others point out that Iskandar could be responsible. He is seeking to establish authority in a land he has not been since he was a child, in company of a foreign monarch and army, and with shaky legitimacy. Utterly annihilating those most recalcitrant to his rule is a good way to establish his authority.

    Also because of the speed of the march and constant need to move on, Iskandar is unable to really consolidate authority in the areas that pledge allegiance to him. Terror will have to keep anyone from getting ideas until he can rectify the issue. The need for continual advance also imposes its own logic for brutality. Strong points that resist can’t be sieged as that would take too long, so they must be stormed. And there is no mercy for the vanquished there.

    In the long run and to the victims the question doesn’t matter. Dead is dead and Odysseus’s and Iskandar’s march across northern Persia in pursuit of Ibrahim is marked with both great battlefield victories and the scenes of massacres of those unable or unwilling to accept the new order.

    Both participants of the expedition and historians writing about it frequently make callbacks to antiquity, especially Alexandros Megas. The ancient references are appropriate in an unexpected way as it makes a valuable contribution to the study of ancient history. Early in 1643 at the impetus of Odysseus, some Roman and Persian soldiers make sketches of the Behistun Inscription, of all three languages despite the difficulty. Reportedly Odysseus said he did not want to face his father’s shade unless he’d gotten the whole thing. While part of the Roman delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Mashhadshar, Demetrios Sideros had become aware of the Inscription and tried and failed to get some locals to make inscriptions of it, much to the then-Eparch’s profound annoyance. The copies are sent back to Constantinople where they would eventually be translated, an invaluable boon to the future study of ancient history as they would allow the eventual translation of a great many ancient documents.

    As the campaigning season of 1643 winds down, most of Persia proper is at least nominally loyal to Iskandar, but despite strenuous efforts, Ibrahim has not been captured and killed. So long as he is alive, Ibrahim is a threat to Iskandar, just as Iskandar’s mere existence was always a threat to Ibrahim. This is especially pertinent considering the thin loyalty of many Persians who are currently pledging their support to Iskandar.

    Ibrahim is fleeing east with those retainers still loyal to him. The Afghan lords around Kabul are unlikely to shelter and aid their former overlord and enemy, but they have no desire to aid Iskandar, who would want to be their new overlord. Beyond them is Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, the former Ottoman governor turned independent warlord, who by this point is lord of the Punjab and some outlying districts. Given that he broke away from Ibrahim’s authority, they are not automatic allies, but a resurgent Persia under Iskandar is a threat to the Pasha. Especially if his troops were combined with Afghan contingents, Ibrahim could muster a formidable army, and it must be remembered that Ibrahim’s own path to lordship began with an army of his father’s veterans in northern India.

    And if one were to be particularly ambitious, there is the realm of Oudh. Kishan Das passed away in 1640 to be succeeded by his son, renamed Chandragupta a few years earlier. The name is highly suggestive of the ambitions of the state of Oudh. Oudh has a bigger population than Rhomania, Persia, the Triple Monarchy, and Spain combined. If Chandragupta elected to back Ibrahim, Ibrahim would be extremely dangerous, as if the last few years never happened.

    Those are the pragmatic reasons for continuing the march east, but what historians sometimes forget to their peril is that people are not automatons, and Odysseus is no exception. Historians, particularly psycho-historians, have debated what debt or responsibility Odysseus felt to Andreas III, but Andreas III had mused about an overland invasion of India after marching through Persia to deal with Ibrahim. That may have been ideal speculation or a flight of fancy on Andreas III’s part, but that may have been another spur driving Odysseus ever further as they marched through lands that had never seen a Roman army and not seen a Greek one since the Diadochi.

    As the army marches into the lands of the Afghans, the initial response is hostile. The locals have no wish for a restored Persian rule; the person of the Shah does not matter. After enduring some harassment, Odysseus and Iskandar march on the three clans who are causing the most trouble. The Afghans retreat to their mountain forts, trusting that the formidable natural defenses will keep them safe until rapidly approaching winter forces the lowlanders to retreat.

    That the lowlanders cannot afford protracted sieges is quite true; an Afghan winter is not to be endured in the open. Odysseus and Iskandar resolve their predicament in all three cases in the same matter, following a template established by Alexandros Megas when he was in this part of the world. Picked teams of Roman and Persian troops scale the peaks in secret and then attack from above while the main army assaults from below. In all cases, the combined offensive is too much and the Romano-Persians break in, massacring everyone in the forts, from the oldest crone down to newborn infants.

    Everyone else in the region gets the message and the Romano-Persians have no further trouble. Kabul opens its gates, handing over a large quantity of needed supplies. At this point some reinforcements arrive, making good the Roman losses and slightly boosting the Persian contingent, although many of the new arrivals are posted in garrisons in Kabul and elsewhere; Iskandar wants to retain his authority established here. Once that is done, in one last surge born in wanting to avoid being caught in an Afghan winter, which fortunately for them has held off so far, the army resumes its march, once again in pursuit of Ibrahim and towards the land of India.

    * * *

    The Khyber Pass, November 20, 1643:

    Odysseus and Iskandar were seated atop their horses, stationed on a rocky outcrop set in the side of the pass that overlooked it. The vanguard had already gone through the pass and secured the immediate area, while flankers swarmed the heights above in case of any ambushers. But it did not appear that there were any challengers to the host that was marching through the Khyber.

    The main body was coming into view, the trump of thousands of boots echoing off the stony walls, joined by the marching music. Banners, both Roman and Persian, fluttered in the weak breeze. The inevitable dust cloud was billowing out behind the marching soldiers, much to the annoyance of those posted further back in the line of march (rotations were cycled so no units suffered it constantly, but all suffered it), but the units out front presented a fine sight.

    “Did you really think this would ever be possible?” Iskandar asked.

    “Honestly, not entirely, at least until I saw it.” A pause. “A part of me still doesn’t. It fears this is but a dream.”

    “And we’re about to wake up and find that the Germans have turned our flank again and are coming down the slope,” Iskandar finished. Odysseus nodded.

    They passed a few moments in silence as the main body marched closer. “We’ve created something special, unique,” Iskandar said.

    Odysseus smiled, genuine warmth showing on his face. “Yes, we have. Nothing like this in at least two thousand years, and possibly not even then.”

    “And at least another two thousand before it comes again.”

    “Yes. A brief moment it must be, but it is ours.”

    The lead unit, now getting quite close, let up an indistinct cheer and the two monarchs doffed their hats. When they placed them back on their heads, the soldiers took up a call-and-response that had been increasingly popular in the last few months, after together they had scattered the might of Ibrahim and marched across the length of Persia.

    “ODYSSEUS! ODYSSEUS!” the Roman soldiers cried out.

    “ISKANDER! ISKANDER!” the Persian soldiers shouted.

    A brief pause.

    “ISKANDER! ISKANDER!” The Roman soldiers shouted.

    “ODYSSEUS! ODYSSEUS!” the Persian soldiers cried out.

    It was followed by an indistinct cheer much greater than the one that had inaugurated the verbal exchange, a mighty roar that reverberated off the ancient stones, echoing down into the east.
     
    East-1643 & 1644: You Never Hurt Me
  • East-1643 & 1644: You Never Hurt Me:​

    Ibrahim and the few retainers, along with his family, that are still with him have been given sanctuary by Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, who is amused by the prospect of having his former suzerain as a supplicant and sees Ibrahim as a useful tool. Given how closely watched they are, Ibrahim and his followers seem more like prisoners, albeit well treated one, than guests. For a while, Ibrahim is concerned that Mustafa Pasha will try and turn him over to Iskandar, but Mustafa Pasha’s informants make it clear that Iskandar doesn’t trust the Pasha and wants him removed, whether or not he hands over Ibrahim. He’s too slippery and untrustworthy to keep around in Iskandar’s opinion. In that case, Mustafa Pasha sees no reason to hand over Ibrahim when he might still prove useful, yet he still keeps a close watch on him.

    After debouching from the Khyber, the Romano-Persian march slackens. Supply-wise, the army needs to forage since provisions aren’t being delivered by Persians eager to curry favor with their new Shah, and after the exertions, the soldiers really do need rest. So while the Romano-Persians move forward, it is at a much slower pace than before. Ibrahim, after his experience in battle, recommends a scorched-earth policy. Let lack of supplies and siege warfare whittle down the enemy while they hopefully can bolster their strength with reinforcements to the east. Awadh expanded to its current immense might in the power vacuum left by Iskandar the Great in northern India and Chandragupta is not at all happy to see a new Persian invasion of the lands to his west.

    Alemdar Mustafa Pasha strongly disagrees for several reasons. Firstly, he is very suspicious of Chandragupta’s ambitions; he knows what that name references and he wants no part of it. It is of no benefit to drive out an eagle by inviting a tiger into one’s living room. Secondly, he is wary of Ibrahim’s advice, suspecting that he is trying to arrange for Mustafa Pasha and Iskandar to destroy each other, hence why he is suggesting Mustafa Pasha lay waste his own lands. Finally, his battlefield record is of a string of defeats against these opponents and he suspects Ibrahim is battle-shy, or perhaps an outright coward; he dismisses the stories of Ibrahim’s battlefield valor as propaganda trying to cover up for his failures in generalship.

    Alemdar Mustafa Pasha marches out of his capital Lahore with the full flower of his army to confront the invaders, with Ibrahim and his family accompanying him so that Mustafa Pasha can keep an eye on him. Exactly how many soldiers he has with him has been hotly debated. While most scholars agree that the Romano-Persians have 50,000 men or so, Mustafa Pasha’s estimate varies from 30,000 to 200,000. The larger figures are viewed as Romano-Persian propaganda as it is extremely doubtful Punjab could field that many soldiers, but there is no strong evidence supporting any one of the various smaller figures against each other.

    On Christmas Day, the two armies hove into sight of each other somewhere along the banks of the Jhelum River. The Romano-Persian sources claim it is at the same area where Alexandros Megas confronted Porus, although modern scholars are justifiably skeptical of the accuracy of such a claim, although the Romano-Persians may have honestly believed this.

    At this point Alemdar Mustafa Pasha grows more cautious. The Romano-Persian army is in finer spirits and conditions than he expected after a long march through Persia and so he acts defensively, remaining on his side of the river. This is one of the arguments used by those scholars who support the lower-level army figures, that Mustafa Pasha had been gambling on exhaustion to make up for a lack of numerical advantage or even a disadvantage and so turned defensive when he saw the true condition of the Romano-Persian army. He doesn’t retreat though, choosing to guard the river line.

    Trying to ford the Jhelum in the teeth of Mustafa Pasha’s army is clearly suicide so Iskandar and Odysseus promptly start seeking other crossing points, throwing out feints everywhere to try and distract Mustafa Pasha. To add further confusion, Odysseus and Iskandar, who with their equally sun-darkened and wind-swept facial features and matching facial hair are looking increasingly like actual blood brothers, dress up in identical clothing with mixed Romano-Persian retinues. They then split up and make sure they are spotted by Mustafa Pasha’s scouts at many different locations, all to mislead their commander as to where Odysseus’s and Iskandar’s attention is concentrating.

    They settle on a ford fifteen kilometers upstream from the encampment and plan on a night crossing between January 1 and 2. By this point there have been many false alarms in Mustafa Pasha’s camp so their guard is dropping despite Ibrahim’s warnings, to which he mainly gets abuse from the Pasha’s officers. During the night fourteen thousand of the best troops in the Romano-Persian army under the command of Odysseus cross the Jhelum.

    They are promptly discovered in the morning and Mustafa Pasha marches out to attack them. Leaving a small force to guard the original crossing against the main Romano-Persian army, he spies an opportunity to crush an enemy detachment that he outnumbers two to one. Mustafa Pasha believes the original plan was for the first force to surprise him in flank as the main body crossed but his scouts foiled the plan and now the Romano-Persians are strung out. Ibrahim is skeptical and just coldly remarks that he should’ve left more men to guard the original crossing.

    The Romano-Persians are not dismayed by the Punjabi army that comes up against them. Yes, they are outnumbered and about to be attacked, but they’ve been here before. The details may vary somewhat, but the principle is not new, and they are absolutely confident that their comrades in arms will come to their aid and they will win the day. That is what they have always done since they have been together and they will not stop now.

    With skilled gunnery and excellent quickly-built field fortifications, Odysseus and his men hold off repeated Punjabi attacks, the noise of the battlefield drowning out the distant rumbling as Iskandar storms across the Jhelum. Although the lead units take heavy casualties, Iskandar routs the river guard, pours over with the main army, and hot-marches to the sound of the guns.

    Part of the Romano-Persian army though is diverted to the main Punjabi camp. There is no looting; that will wait until after the battle. This is an assassination squad to kill Ibrahim and his family and they murder all those they can find in the camp in that category, down to Ibrahim’s youngest child, a two-year-old daughter. There are only three that they don’t get, because they’re not in the camp but with the main Punjabi army.

    Those are Ibrahim himself and his first two wives, Leila and Tara. Ibrahim was to be kept near Mustafa Pasha and not left at the camp, but the former Shah had expressed concerns about his family’s security. The annoyed Mustafa Pasha curtly ordered the two women to be taken out to accompany Ibrahim but the rest of his family would remain where Mustafa Pasha had placed them. The choice of the two women is clearly meant as an insult to Ibrahim for his ‘womanly’ worry and fear.

    The guard force scatters after being routed and thus the main Punjabi army gets very little warning before Iskandar attacks them from behind. Sandwiched between two enemy forces, the Punjabi army is quickly overrun and cut to pieces; it is more massacre than battle at the end. The massacre is of short duration as Iskandar’s attack was late in the afternoon, but one of the slain is Alemdar Mustafa Pasha. According to some accounts he is killed in the fighting; in others he is captured by Roman soldiers and presented to Iskandar who immediately executes him.

    Three individuals not slain in the battle are Ibrahim, Leila, and Tara, who escape in the confusion. Romano-Persian forces pursue them, but there are also many other remnants of the Punjabi army who are a more immediate military threat. The pursuit is also less vigorous than it might have been as the Romano-Persian forces are clearly suffering from exhaustion. It has been a glorious and dramatic year, but also a very long and tiring one.

    * * *​

    A Place Known Only to God, January 6, 1644:

    There didn’t seem to be anyone around, as far as Ibrahim could tell, which was good. They were up on a small hill that overlooked a deserted countryside. Angry and dispirited soldiers from Mustafa Pasha’s army, who had no connection to the local peasantry, had turned their wrath and frustration and hunger on said local peasantry. Those who had not been killed by or fled from those had been killed by or fled from pursuing and foraging Roman troops. The survivors would trickle back from their hideouts, but for now the land was empty.

    Leila and Tara were starting to cook the evening meal over the fire and Ibrahim smiled a bit as Leila fussed over the contents. Leila was fair-skinned and green-eyed, from her Circassian ancestry, while Tara was dusky and dark-haired like Ibrahim. Both were starting to get wrinkles but that had not bothered him even back when he was in a position to be bothered by such things. They had been together since he was a boy and they were girls, in what seemed like more than a lifetime ago.

    Leila adjusted the pan as Tara added some brush to the fire. Ibrahim had grabbed some packs of supplies before they’d fled, so they had flour with salt and oil and some herbs, filling but hardly the type of food to grace the table of monarchs. Hunger would not be a problem for them anytime soon.

    There were enough problems already. Ibrahim had failed, that much was obvious. Allah, in his merciful wisdom, had raised him up and then brought him down. He did not know why, but that is what had happened. His last slender hope was Chandragupta, but that was certainly a frail reed that would break if Ibrahim leaned on it. Chandragupta was mighty but he was far from Persia, and there was no guarantee he would receive any better treatment at Lucknow than at Lahore. And that was assuming they could even get there. Their horses had held up so far, but a long race would certainly break them, and aside from the Romans there were also the Sikhs between them and Chandragupta, and the Sikhs were probably already sending offers of alliance to Odysseus and his murderous little brother.

    He knew what they’d done to the rest of his family, although he had suspected it ever since Iskandar came from the ford with his army. They’d encountered a lone Roman soldier yesterday, who’d apparently separated to go foraging on his own account. Ibrahim had jumped him, subdued him, and gotten what information he could out of him before decapitating him.

    Killing the Roman had felt good. The Roman had found an unlucky local family and murdered them, apparently in an effort to get them to turn over hidden valuables. And he’d certainly raped the women before he killed them, including a girl that Ibrahim guessed was ten or eleven. Killing him hadn’t been murder, or even war; it had been justice. And the provision of justice was the first duty of any sovereign, and so for that moment he had been a Shahanshah again, not a fugitive.

    But it had just been for a moment. He was a fugitive, a failure, and if he tried to go on he was certainly just going to get Leila and Tara killed. He could think of only one course of action that had a reasonable chance of averting that. Put that way, it was not a hard decision; it was barely a decision at all. Ibrahim picked up a spade. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, walking behind an outcrop of rock that blocked their view of him.

    A short while later he called out for the two women to come to him. They came, Leila holding the tray with the meal on it. “Food’s ready,” she said. “You’re taking a long…” Her voice trailed off as she saw what he had done. The depression was a bit shallow, but its function was obvious; it was a grave.

    “I won’t be able to fill it up for you,” Ibrahim said. “Sorry about that. But I thought I should at least dig it and save you the effort.”

    “Just what are you saying, my hummingbird?” Tara asked.

    “It’s simple. You two have to kill me; it’s the only way to save your lives.”

    “What? You can’t be serious.”

    “I am. When they catch us, they’re going to kill all of us. My fate is sealed, but you may be spared, but you have to give Iskandar a reason.”

    “He…he wouldn’t…” Leila protested.

    Ibrahim looked at her sadly. “They killed our little frog, my dove. She was two, and they butchered her like a goat. He would.”

    “But, but, how will killing you spare us?” Tara asked.

    “You will have done him a great service. It will look badly for him if he kills you after that; it would discourage others from doing him great services in the future.”

    “But would they believe us?”

    “I don’t know. But the words of the sorcerer Demetrios about my death are clear. Odysseus at least will want to believe you.” Their twisted faces showed that they didn’t like his argument, but their silence showed they didn’t have a counter-argument.

    Ibrahim started unwinding his turban and setting aside some personal effects, rings, a medallion, a dagger, and a sword that his father had worn at Samarkand. “I don’t want my body to be found so that it can be dishonored. But presenting these will prove that I am no more.” They nodded.

    Ibrahim picked up the dagger. This was the part he hated the most. The Romans would want to believe them, but while he loved them, he knew Leila and Tara were bad at lying. It wasn’t enough for him to kill himself and the two to take responsibility; they wouldn’t be able to sell that. To be blunt, to convince Iskandar and Odysseus, Leila and Tara needed to be more traumatized. And while it needed to be done, Ibrahim knew that for this, if nothing else, he deserved to die like this.

    Standing in front of her, he handed Tara the dagger, after first cutting a hole in his shirt around his heart to indicate where she should strike. She clutched it, her arms trembling, her face twisted, her and Leila’s eyes filling up with tears. Seconds, or eternities, passed. “I…I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I can’t do it.”

    Ibrahim cupped his right hand around hers, the one that was holding the dagger. “Don’t be sorry. I’m the one that is sorry.”

    With his left hand, he stroked her hair, straightening some of the strands. He kissed her on the forehead, his own eyes filling with tears. “Tell the world that you killed me, but know in your hearts that you never hurt me.”

    Though her hand was the only one actually touching the dagger, it was all his strength that drove the steel into his heart.

    * * *​

    1644 continued: On January 9, Leila and Tara surrender to a Roman patrol and are soon presented to Iskandar and Odysseus, where they claim to have killed their husband and buried him, producing several personal effects as evidence. When questioned, they are defiant, saying that they slew Ibrahim because it was better that way, where he die at the hands of those who loved him, then to perish in the clutches of his child-murdering brother. ‘Alexandros Megas treated the family of Darius III far better’, Leila reproves Iskandar.

    Iskandar ends up giving the two women a castle and large stipends to support them. He can hardly do otherwise considering that they have, for whatever reason, removed the main threat to his legitimacy. Furthermore the murder of Ibrahim’s children, including the girls, does not sit well with some of his Persian followers, so he needs to mollify them. The castle is a cage, but it is a gilded one. Neither remarry, but both seem to have lived for decades afterward and died of natural causes.

    Ibrahim’s grave has never been discovered. That air of mystery has attracted many Persian poets to his story, who sing of fortune’s wheel. They have him quoting the last words of Yazdegerd III, the final Shah of the Sassanids, from the Persian epic the Shahnameh:

    “A man who understands the world soon says
    There is no sense or wisdom in its ways…
    The heavens mingle their malevolence
    With kindness in ways which make no sense,
    And it is best if you can watch them move,
    Untouched by indignation and by love.”

    The poets sing of the firstborn son of Iskandar the Great, who began his reign in the land of India and returned there at its end, and who, like his father, breathed his last somewhere in the east.
     
    East-1644: The Never-Ending Thunder
  • East-1644: The Never-Ending Thunder

    After the battle of the Jhelum, or the Hydaspes, the Romano-Persians easily secure the former lands of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, but afterwards they must rest. They have performed prodigies over the past year, but they are still men of flesh and bone, not iron. Aside from the areas near the battlefield, the Punjabi countryside is rich and fertile, providing ample supplies, and the soldiers rest and feed, their lean frames filling out again.

    However the plan is not to return to Persia once the army has rested, even though the threat of Ibrahim has been eliminated. Iskandar may have no more dynastic challengers, but his authority is thin and his legitimacy based on conquest. He has several military victories and exploits to his credit, but they are almost all over Persians. Even Alemdar Mustafa Pasha and his army were largely Persians, albeit renegade ones.

    Iskandar wants something more substantial and impressive and frankly less awkward before he returns to Persia. He is in India where his father’s most lucrative victories had been won. A victorious and profitable campaign in these lands would do much to remind everyone that he is a son of Iskandar the Great, which is a reminder everyone needs in his opinion. The mysterious end of Ibrahim is already inspiring stories, and he was the eldest son of Iskandar the Great and his chosen successor after all. Iskandar needs something dramatic for his own portfolio. The vast wealth that could be gained in a successful expedition would also be rather useful. His authority does need to be consolidated, but the process would be much easier and effective if he has some Indian laurels to his credit. The possible benefits are worth delaying his return proper.

    Odysseus’s reasons are less clear, with historians debating the reasons. But he is certainly willing to participate in such a venture once the soldiers are rested and the monsoon rains clear.

    * * *

    Outside of Lahore, February 16, 1644:

    Odysseus walked through the ranks of cannons parked at the side of the field. The occasional boom echoed over as artillerymen practiced. They were a mix of pieces, varying in size and origin, Roman mikropurs, Ottoman culverins, and those Triune 15-pounders. Those were some good cannons; Odysseus had yet to meet a gunner who did not love them.

    He didn’t love them. He certainly respected them, but he couldn’t love them. He was too familiar with their capabilities. For while he had used them to great effect in battle, he had also been under those very guns. These guns were the source, the origin, of the never-ending thunder of his dreams, which shook his bones and made his joints ache, that cut through his body as if it were nothing. He had seen too many comrades, too many friends, die by those pieces when they had been commanded by Vauban. That certainly didn’t stop him from using them; he was too much of a pragmatist for that. But that meant a part of him couldn’t help but feel a bit ill just looking at them. He couldn’t help but wonder if this very piece sitting in front of him had been the one to fire the shot that killed Andronikos, or Alexios, or Ioannes, or…

    He looked away from the cannon toward the horizon. Those guns had been part of the army of Theodor, and yet Odysseus no longer could find it in himself to hate Theodor. Theodor was no more; he had perished shortly after Demetrios. But his final words, and that question, especially coming so soon after Odysseus’s final conversation with his father, could not fail to strike Odysseus in his heart. After that, he could no longer find it in him to hate Theodor. Envy perhaps, to be honest, since Odysseus wondered if he could truthfully answer the question the same as Theodor, but no longer hate.

    Yet that certainly did not mean there was no longer hate in his heart. Theodor at least had believed in something. He at least had a grand vision. Perhaps, probably, it was an insane vision, a dream of reuniting the west and the east, of restoring a bond sundered a thousand years ago. But Odysseus Sideros was in no position to judge the man for having insane visions.

    Those guns though had not truly been Theodor’s. They had been Henri’s. The Triune monarch believed in nothing other than power itself. Theodor’s attack never would’ve been so devastating if not for those guns, sent by Henri solely as a cynical maneuver to ensure that as many of his foes would kill themselves. Henri had sent these devices that had killed so many Romans, so many of his friends, and ensured that his sleep was haunted and gave him little rest.

    Marching into King’s Harbor and flattening the city, salting the earth, and killing every-single-thing in it was not possible. He understood and accepted that, and knew even if he could it would not stop the never-ending thunder. Nothing could. But he wanted revenge anyway. And if he had to march halfway across Asia to get it, so be it.

    * * *

    1644 continued: Early 1644 is primarily a time of consolidation and rest, with some diplomacy mixed in as well. A column secures the lower Indus, linking up with the Ethiopian enclave at Thatta. The Ethiopians provide supplies, information, and offer 1200 infantry as reinforcements for the army, an offer Odysseus happily accepts. At this point the army of Odysseus and Iskandar is quite heterogeneous, with those of Roman origin now falling below 40%. While specific individual formations still are homogeneous to their recruits’ place of origin, broader formations are now mixed. Romans and Persians truly fight side-by-side, comrades in arms with friendship forged in long marches and great battles and shared privations and dangers.

    Iskandar briefly leaves the army to travel to Thatta, taking ship to Gamrun and Hormuz to personally accept their submissions. While he doesn’t leave the coast, he does take the opportunity to send missives and establish appointments to help consolidate his authority in Persia. After doing that he returns the way he came and rejoins the army.

    Things are quiet in his absence. Odysseus has been hard at work at his campaign paintings; he had had little opportunity to do so since Khorramabad and is making up for lost time. Many detail various aspects of camp life and are highly valued by modern historians as visual aids, detailing elements that so often are left out of the history texts. There are also natural landscapes, either devoid of human activity or showing a few small figures utterly dwarfed by nature. These are not just of the Punjab but stretch across Persia and Afghanistan. Odysseus had not had time to paint in most of 1643, but he had made quick pencil sketches of sights he wanted to capture, developing them into paintings now.

    It is not all just painting for Odysseus. While Iskandar in Hormuz, Odysseus suffers his first injury in the campaign. While out inspecting some exercises, his horse stumbles and throws him. The damage does not seem to be severe; after a few days’ convalescence the Basileus returns to his regular routine.

    There are also ambassadors from the great states of India arriving in Lahore, clearly interested in the shift of political power and concerned about the possible implications. The ambassadors are well-treated but Odysseus declines to discuss business with them until his friend and brother the Shahanshah returns.

    Once Iskandar returns to Lahore, the Romano-Persian intentions are quickly made clear. The ambassador from Awadh is strongly criticized for his master’s apparent willingness to support Ibrahim (incriminating letters had been found in the Punjabi camp), an act the duo find hostile. They demand compensation for the encouragement of their enemies, in absolutely stupendous quantities. The pair clearly expect these demands to be refused and are not disappointed.

    Odysseus and Iskandar are clearly acting aggressively and looking for a fight, but their target is hardly innocent on that count either. Chandragupta had been most disturbed by the appearance of a new and powerful threat on his western flank, and very keen to avoid a reprisal of Iskandar the Great’s invasions of northern India. In his mind, it would be best to nip this new threat in the bud. The ambassador had been sent to gather intelligence and, if possible, convince the pair to quit the Indus. In the likely chance that the ambassador could not do the latter, Chandragupta was ready to use military force to achieve it, and made the necessary preparation to launch the attack once the summer monsoon rains had ended.

    The pair are much warmer to the Sikh representative, Ranjit Singh, who has prior contacts with the Romans. The Sikhs, concerned about their large and overbearing neighbor which had clear designs on their holdings around Delhi and Agra, are eager for an alliance. Meanwhile Odysseus and Iskandar, well aware that Chandragupta’s forces outnumber theirs handily, are eager for more manpower. An alliance is soon formed with the Sikhs pledging to commit 10,000 troops that will fight in a contingent under their own officers but answering to the joint leadership of the Basileus and the Shahanshah.

    The meetings with the Vijayanagara ambassador are more complicated. Venkata Raya is concerned about a new imperial power in the Indus valley, in contrast to the mere regional power that had been Alemdar Mustafa Pasha’s Punjab. But he is not as bothered as Chandragupta, or even his younger self who had marched with such great hosts against Ibrahim (and felt keenly the expense of such efforts).

    His concern is the existence of a great power in northern India. Vijayanagar had been founded primarily as a bulwark against northern aggression, from the Delhi Sultanate. The destruction of the Delhi Sultanate had eliminated that danger, but the fear and concern of a replacement remains in Vijayanagar. The attack on Ibrahim had been an effort to destroy what looked like a new northern threat in the form of Persia. However that effort had been followed by the meteoric rise of Awadh, which has clearly revived the northern danger, particularly when combined with its alliance with Triune Bengal.

    Venkata Raya considers Chandragupta a greater threat than Iskandar and Odysseus. The former has far more human and material resources and his power base is much closer to Vijayanagar. But he also doesn’t want to destroy Awadh and see it replaced by a massive Persia-in-India realm.

    So he is open to overtures from the pair, but keeps them at arm’s length. He is willing to cooperate against Awadh by launching attacks of his own at the same as the pair launch an offensive, but he is not willing to send troops to fight under the pair’s command. He does send money to the Sikhs to help them outfit their contribution, and more directly to the pair. He promises even more once their common enemy is defeated and the pair are returning to their own lands. The hint is obvious, but then it was intended to be.

    As the summer monsoon fades, Iskandar and Odysseus have a little over 50,000 men under their command without the Sikhs, twenty thousand Romans and thirty thousand Persians and Afghans. They head out, music playing and banners flying, passing beyond the limits of what Alexandros Megas had been able to go two millennia past, heading ever farther to the east.
     
    East-1644: Panipat
  • East-1644: Panipat

    “Let terror be my right hand, and panic my left, and I shall destroy any army on this earth.”-the Shatterer of Armies​

    As the rains clear, Chandragupta faces three threats, the Romano-Persians, the Sikhs, and the Vijayanagari. In terms of weight, the latter far outweighs the first two, while the Sikhs by themselves can defend themselves but otherwise don’t have the numbers to be more than a nuisance. Joined up with the Romano-Persians though they can be much more of a problem. A key advantage is that the Vijayanagari are much further away from Chandragupta’s power base than the Romano-Persian-Sikhs, and while their fist is heavy, there is a question over whether their arm can reach this far. So Chandragupta reasons that he can throw his whole strength west to deal with those enemies, pivoting to meet the Vijayanagari as needed afterwards.

    Aside from the formidable and massive human material of his realm, marching west in his army are 13,500 soldiers from Triune Bengal, eleven thousand Bengalis and the remainder Europeans. The Viceroy, Lord Thomas Howard, is a new appointee, product of the shift to English administration. He is not enthusiastic about the provision of troops. At this stage he sees no indication that Odysseus and Iskandar are a threat to Bengal, just Awadh.

    However he expects that Chandragupta will win out over the duo, and then the following battle between Awadh and Vijayanagar will go either way, but with Awadh holding the home-field advantage. A victorious Venkata Raya is a menace to Bengal; a victorious and betrayed Chandragupta is an existential threat. So he sends the soldiers as asked.

    Chandragupta’s first task is to ensure that the Romano-Persians and Sikhs don’t link up. Used to skirmishing with the Sikhs, flying columns stationed on the frontier at positions well placed to go into action quickly set to work. With more resources devoted to the task than usual, they are able to harry the Sikhs and drive them back into their strongholds. They don’t have the strength to seize them, but they effectively mask the fortresses. Ranjit Singh leads a Sikh force that does meet up with Odysseus and Iskandar, but it’s only three thousand strong as opposed to the ten thousand originally promised.

    Meanwhile Chandragupta veers to the north of the Sikh domains with his main army, planning to deal with the westerners before the Sikhs. The numbers that Chandragupta commands here are unknown and fiercely debated, some estimates going as high as the insane 900,000. Yet even the most conservative elements, putting his combatants at 120000 to 150000, means the Romano-Persians are outnumbered 2.5-3 to 1.

    Lord Howard believes that Odysseus and Iskandar are both capable men, but also young ones who’ve had a string of successes which have gone to their heads and have no idea of what they’re really facing. However the two are aware of the numerical odds against them, with frequent and accurate reports from their scouts, although the tale that Iskandar responded to the tally with a quote from Alaric that “the thicker the hay, the easier the mowing” may be apocryphal.

    The two hosts meet at the city of Panipat, so often the scene of armed clashes between invaders and defenders of the land of India. The Romano-Persians arrive first, anchoring their right wing on the city itself and protecting their center with a series of wagons and ditches, heavily bolstered by artillery. The left is covered by some ditches, although not to the extent of the center. The area is relatively open, although it lacks the volume to allow Chandragupta’s army to fully deploy.

    It is rather obvious that Odysseus and Iskandar want Chandragupta to attack and have picked ground that favors them. Chandragupta would prefer to not oblige them, but his options are limited. He could try to maneuver around them to force the Romano-Persians out of their position, but his great host is necessarily ungainly, and repositioning in close proximity to an alert and skilled enemy without exposing some vulnerability is not easy. On October 2, a strike force led by Ranjit Singh of 1000 Sikhs and 1000 Romano-Persians surprises an outlying detachment and wrecks it. The six hundred casualties are a pinprick compared to the size of his armament, but they are a warning of the dangers.

    If he maneuvered around them, he would have to give them a wide berth. The best way to get the Romano-Persians to move would be to get behind them and threaten their supply lines to the Punjab, but to do so would uncover his own supply lines. Given its comparatively small size and the fertility of the country, the Romano-Persian army can live off the land for at least a short time even if it remains stationary. Chandragupta’s is far too large to do the same.

    He could split his army, but Chandragupta respects the capabilities of the commanders and men he is facing. He wants numerical superiority when he goes into battle, and the bigger the margin the better. Splitting his army would create two smaller forces, both of which would still have numerical superiority, but a smaller margin than he would like, and clearly open him up to being defeated in detail.

    There is also the issue of time. He cannot afford to be stationed in the northwest forever. While his belief that the Vijayanagari host will take time to muster and march north is accurate, Venkata Raya has a rapid response force of 12,000 Rajput cavalry backed up by 6,000 Gurkha mounted infantry. That is already in action in Awadh’s southern territory, wreaking havoc in the area.

    After a council of war with his generals, Chandragupta decides to attack here. Given the smaller size and superior maneuverability of the Romano-Persians, it is most likely they would get to choose the battlefield anyway. Chandragupta’s army is here in full strength, fresh with little of the sapping that campaigns do. Delay is unlikely to improve the situation, and likely to make it worse.

    The battle begins on the morning of October 5. After an artillery duel where Chandragupta’s quantity and the Romano-Persians’ quality largely cancel each other out, the Awadh army moves forward. On the Romano-Persian right wing, the action is restricted to skirmishing. In the center a powerful attack is mounted, but its primary goal is not to break through the enemy lines but to keep the defenders pinned in place. The main event is on the Romano-Persian left wing where Chandragupta uses his much superior numbers to try and outflank Odysseus and Iskandar.

    The Romano-Persian left is refused to make it harder to flank, and both armies gradually stretch to the side as the Awadh try to outflank and the Romano-Persians work to block them. The fighting here is primarily with cavalry, with action ebbing and flowing as units charge, retire, reform, and charge again. The Awadh have superior numbers but skilled cooperation between the Romano-Persian cavalry and mounted infantry hold them at bay, but they are hard pressed. Thinking that just one more big push will break them, and tired of this scuttling-sideways-like-a-crab maneuver, the Awadh commander commits his reserve.

    The attack forces back the Romano-Persian line but does not break it, and now all Awadh forces in the area are committed while the Romano-Persians still have their reserve. The Awadh advance has opened up a small gap in their formations and the Romano-Persians ram their elite reserve squadrons, husbanded for such a moment, through the gap, Michael Pirokolos leading the charge. These are 1600 heavy cavalry, Roman kataphraktoi and Persian lancers, the best heavy shock cavalry in Rhomania and Persia, heavily armored, mounted on big horses, in perfect formation and completely fresh. They maul their disorganized, tired, less armored and smaller-mounted opponents. Behind the lancers come 2000 lighter cavalry, including the Sikh horse under Ranjit Singh, to exploit the breach.

    The Awadh numbers suddenly count against them as their struck formations reel back in shock and horror, piling into their neighbors, who are confused and alarmed by the sudden shift. They thought they were winning, and suddenly their comrades are flying in panic out of the dusty gloom and crashing into their own flanks. And then their pursuers come storming out as well, roaring triumphant battle cries.

    It seems like these towering monsters, a half-ton of flesh and steel gleaming in the sun, are coming straight at them, their lances dripping blood from previous victims. Lancers, when running down smaller opponents like foot soldiers, spit them like fish on their lances. With a deft wrist maneuver, they can typically slide the body off the lance and swing the point back up, ready to impale the next victim. It goes against literally every survival instinct burned into human psychology over eons of evolution to stand and face such horrors.

    The Romano-Persian cavalry at this point are facing a foe that outnumbers them somewhere on the order of ten-to-one, but the Awadh soldiers don’t know that. They are shocked and confused, demoralized by the panic of their fleeing comrades, and the Romano-Persian cavalry know how to exploit panic. They keep up the attack, giving their enemies no rest, no respite, no moment to calm down and realize their huge numerical superiority. The sheer audacity of the attack convinces the victims that there must be more assailants than there really are, and so they flee, crashing into their comrades further down the line, sparking the process all over again.

    Odysseus, seeing the opportunity, thins the forces on the firing line to feed the attack, which continues toppling over the Awadh ranks, rolling up the line. Most of the bulk is provided by the Awadh themselves, with formations continuing to pile into each other. The Romano-Persian cavalry calls change from battle cries to hunting calls as they drive the enemy before them. The mass of Awadh troops piled together also presents excellent targets for the artillery, further sowing chaos and fear.

    Chandragupta tries to stem the onslaught by feeding in his own reserves, but the traffic jam makes it take too long to get them into action. By then the panic has a momentum of its own and there is nothing stopping it. Despite no numerical advantage, the Romano-Persian right wing advances, driving away its now-skittish assailants and wheeling inward, pouring flanking fire into the Awadh center where Chandragupta’s army is getting packed.

    It is almost another Cannae, except the Carthaginians here have cannons. The Romano-Persians don’t completely surround the Awadh army; they won’t risk thinning their lines that much. But they pour in fire from three sides, the bodies piling up in heaps. In some areas the dead are not slain by bullets, but by asphyxiation from being packed so tightly. Chandragupta escapes with much of his reserves and the army units stationed in the rear ranks, but his host has been wrecked.

    ‘Bloody’ is an understatement for the battle of Panipat. The Romano-Persians take eight thousand casualties, about 15% of their total forces. Two of the casualties are notably both Odysseus and Iskandar, each of whom are struck by spent bullets and suffer substantial bruising, although nothing more serious. However Awadh losses are literally close to an order of magnitude larger, with about sixty thousand casualties, the bulk in the slaughterhouse on the concentrated center. Hannibal would be impressed.

    After a day of rest, the Romano-Persians move out in pursuit. Like during the battle, Odysseus and Iskandar know the need to keep up the momentum when it’s on their side. Plus staying too long near such a pile of corpses is not good for the health; they can’t afford a post-Baghdad situation here. As they harry Chandragupta in retreat, his host continues to bleed. The direct losses are minor, but his troops are dispirited and they soon start deserting. As more desert, even more are encouraged to desert. Nobody wants to fight those demons again, especially if it’s at or near numerical par. And so Odysseus and Iskandar press on, heading ever further east.
     
    East-1644: A Glittering Progression
  • East-1644: A Glittering Progression

    The realm of Awadh is vast and densely populated, the inhabitants outnumbering the Romano-Persian invaders literally on a scale of a thousand-to-one. Were Awadh a cohesive united organized state, it could’ve worn down its assailants through sheer friction, even with a verdict like Panipat. However it is not.

    Although a state centered on the city of Lucknow is not new, the great power Awadh that dominates northern India is extremely young. Through the military and political acumen of Kishan Das, it was formed in the chaos after Iskandar the Great’s invasion and subsequent Persian withdrawal. The earlier political setup was destroyed, but the Persians and Vijayanagari were unable to fill it. Enter Kishan Das.

    Kishan Das successfully and peacefully bequeathed his realm to his son Chandragupta, but local grandees still dominate regional centers, and they remember their former independence which they’d held not that long ago. Kishan Das had kept them in check, and Chandragupta had seemed to have the military might to continue that legacy, until Panipat.

    Now the fear of the center that kept the periphery in check is no more, and Chandragupta doesn’t have anything else to replace it, not even the reputation of past successes that his father could’ve deployed in such circumstances. As news of his great defeat spreads, the grandees start hatching plans and plots. Meanwhile the Romano-Persians relentlessly harry his army, picking off stragglers while it hemorrhages deserters. He is not helped by the fact that many of his best and loyal officers and notables are now dead, with the remainder resentful and muttering.

    Three weeks after Panipat, Chandragupta tries to make a stand to stop the bleeding, forming his army for battle. Even now, he has a noticeable numerical advantage, although not nearly on the level of Panipat. The Romano-Persians form up for battle as well, advancing forward as if they don’t have a care in the world, the artillery of both sides trading fire. Just a few minutes into the duel, a Romano-Persian cannonball hits an Awadhi ammunition wagon, setting off a massive explosion that guts the Awadhi soldiers’ low morale. They break before the Romano-Persians make contact.

    This battle, which barely merits the name and the casualties of which number in the low hundreds at most, marks the operative end of Chandragupta as a serious political player. He successfully flees, but his army effectively disbands itself. The Romano-Persians attack any cohesive units that remain, but scattered bands of deserters fleeing home are left alone provided they stay out of the Romano-Persians’ way.

    The forces blocking the Sikhs have disintegrated with the news, so the remainder of the pledged Sikh forces link up with Odysseus and Iskandar who then march east. It is hardly a military march, but a grand progress. The grandees, once they realize that the duo have no interest in political control but only in provisions and plunder, are ecstatic. Yes, the invaders have to be bought off, and not cheaply, but in return for said payment they get their former independence without having to do any work themselves. Regional leaders throw off Chandragupta’s rule all across his realm.

    The amount of plunder the Romano-Persians take is unknown, but absolutely massive. Gold, silver, gems, spices, silks, cottons-they add up to mountains, each. At the end, a Roman quartermaster estimates that the combined value of the take is comparable to three years of the Roman government’s annual budget, although he admits his calculations are extremely rough. But any poor Epirote or Kermanshah farmhand now probably has more wealth than his home village does.

    It should be noted that much, probably the bulk, of the plunder does not end up in the Roman or Persian homelands of the soldiers but remains in India. Hauling such bulk around is tedious, particularly for common soldiers who don’t have easy access to pack animals or servants. Plus goods like cotton cloth aren’t useful for the kinds of economic exchange in which most soldiers wish to engage. It is much more convenient to exchange them for currency with the Indian merchants who are fastening themselves to the army for this very reason. The profit for the merchants is quite high, while the soldiers get the coin they want to spend on local ‘wine, women, and song’, which means said coin stays in the area.

    Officers and more thoughtful soldiers would prefer to keep their plunder and return with it to their homelands, where it can fund a good retirement. But there is still the issue of hauling that around. Odysseus and Iskandar set up an arrangement for them, although the principal goal is to ensure that the monarchs’ cut also ends up invested back in their homelands. Even by the standards of Kings of Kings, these are sizeable amounts of money.

    The wealthiest Indian merchants and bankers do business directly with the monarchs. They receive the plundered goods and in return give bills of exchange. The credit-worthiness of the guarantors of the bills is well-known to anyone involved in India trade and commerce, and so the bills of exchange can circulate like money. Roman and Persian soldiers who sign up for this system deposit their goods and gets bills of exchange for their value. They carry them with them and when they return home, they can go to any commercial center and find a merchant active in India trade who can use it in their business and exchange it for the local currency which is what they really want. (The setup works for both Roman and Persian soldiers, although the home-stage process is more convenient for Romans.)

    Chandragupta is assassinated by one of his generals who takes control of Lucknow to rule as his own small state. Odysseus and Iskandar profess annoyance at the murder of a sovereign, but the general knows the proper response. Lucknow’s ‘gift’ is the biggest single installment to the Romano-Persians’ pile of plunder.

    The city that is the reverse of Lucknow in that it doesn’t have to pay any gift is Varanasi. The city is sacred to Hindus and since Odysseus and Iskandar don’t want to alienate Hindus while they are literally surrounded by millions of them, they don’t demand any plunder. The city does provide provisions.

    At Varanasi the pair also meet with envoys from Venkata Raya. He is most pleased by the news from northern India, since the duo have removed a major threat without him having to do much of anything and there is no sign that they intend to fill the new power vacuum. However the pair are continuing to march east and are approaching the Viceroyalty of Bengal, which means the Vijayanagari monarch has reason to be concerned again. He wants the Triune viceroyalty destroyed, but not for it to be replaced by a Roman Katepanate. Given its proximity to the sea, it is much more feasible for the Romans to establish a base here, as opposed to somewhere in the heart of northern India. If Venkata Raya wants a say in the future of Bengal, he needs to be heavily involved in the rearrangement.

    In terms of prestige and plunder, the Romano-Persians have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams already, but Odysseus makes it clear he does not intend to stop until he washes his sword in the Bay of Bengal. Missives from Lord Howard expressing peaceful intentions are rejected with contempt, the Basileus responding with utter disdain. He points out the Viceroy’s aid to Chandragupta that included thousands of infantry at Panipat. And he lays into the Triunes for launching an unprovoked attack on the Romans even though they had never received any injury that would’ve remotely justified such a response. These are not the actions of a peaceful people, and their perfidy must be punished.

    The Romano-Persians will invade Bengal from the west, while the Vijayanagara will provide troops and, more importantly, a fleet. Pereira takes personal command of the naval expedition and off the Mouths of the Ganges crushes the Triune fleet, the formerly-Spanish vessels proving to be just as dangerous to Triune ships as to Roman ones. After doing so, he lands a small Vijayanagara army in the area.

    The sealifted army would to be too small to take on an undistracted Viceroyalty, but the Viceroyalty is quite distracted. Lord Howard marshals an army to defend the Viceroyalty but the vassal princes are noticeably reticent. When fighting against Awadh, they’d been willing to back Sutanuti as a lesser threat to their autonomy, but based on past behavior up the Ganges Odysseus and Iskandar do not seem to be a threat. As a result, the Triune army while comparable in size to the Romano-Persian, if not slightly bigger, is considerably more brittle. An afternoon is enough for the duo to demolish it.

    With that, the Viceroyalty crumbles much as Awadh had. Both states had been built on the premise of force and are too young to have developed other means of support, and once that force is gone there are no other sources of legitimacy around which the state can cohere, and so they crumble. The various subject princes throw off their allegiances, with those in the path of the Romano-Persians making substantial ‘gifts’ to convince them to move on. Sutanuti itself puts up much more of a fight, requiring a siege to reduce it, the effort also needing naval support from Pereira to succeed.

    When it falls the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti is at an end, Lord Howard surrendering his sword to Emperor Odysseus. The former Viceroy is treated as a prisoner-of-war of high rank, treated comfortably with the promise of release upon ransom. Other Triune officers are treated similarly. The rank-and-file of the Triune soldiery that are not native Indians however are sold off into slavery, bought up by merchants. Most end up as agricultural laborers on estates in the Deccan.

    (This is not as shocking as might be expected; there are no such things as prisoner-of-war conventions ITTL, as at this time IOTL. And the ruling elites, while concerned greatly about officers, because they are fellow elites, would be much less bothered about the plight of the rabble that makes up the rank-and-file. And European nations of this time IOTL did often send prisoners-of-war off as forced labor in their colonies.)

    Historians are unsure if Odysseus’s goal was just to destroy the Viceroyalty or also to replace it with a Roman Katepanate. He’d made no effort to secure administrative and technical aid from the Katepanate of Taprobane that would’ve been most useful if he’d wished to do the latter, but at the time he was absorbed in military matters and communications with Taprobane had been difficult before the defeat of the Viceroyalty anyway.

    However while Odysseus found much local support in destroying the Viceroyalty, if he wished to replace it he would’ve faced universal opposition. The local princes have no desire to simply replace one overlord with another. Neither Vijayanagar nor the Sikhs want a major imperial player in Bengal; it is too much of a threat to their own interests. Finally Iskandar has gotten what he wanted from the Indian expedition, massive piles of prestige and plunder, but it really is time he got back to his domains and firmly established his authority. While no one has made a play for the throne, there are reports of local disturbances, with nomadic tribes and regional bosses causing trouble. Spending more time out here in an endeavor that truly would only serve Rhomania is not in his interest.

    The soldiers also don’t think much of occupying Bengal. The countryside is hot, uncomfortable, and Romans, Persians, and Afghans all agree that it is disturbingly lacking in fruit. On a more serious note, disease breaks out among the soldiers shortly after the fall of Sutanuti, sickening many and killing some. To have come so far, endured so much, and won so much, and then to perish here like this is heartbreaking. The soldiers do not want to stay here. Like Alexandros’s world-conquering veterans, they have their limits.

    Odysseus gives way, that is if he intended of even standing in the first place, contenting himself with the massive piles of prestige and plunder and washing the sword of Timur given him by his father in the Bay of Bengal. Incredibly, there are efforts by some to continue the expedition. Emissaries from the Toungoo Kingdom of the middle Irrawaddy arrive and propose a combined expedition against Mon Pegu, which had been allied with the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti.

    While Odysseus is polite and gives some gifts to compensate the envoys for their troubles, it is extremely doubtful he seriously considers the proposal. It is time to return west.
     
    East-1645: The Final Promise
  • East-1645: The Final Promise

    Much of 1645 is spent in the process of the soldiers of the expedition returning home, some by land and some by sea. Northern India is left as a political vacuum, with a multiplicity of small states replacing the larger entities of Awadh, Triune Bengal, and Alemdar Mustafa Pasha’s Punjab. At some point in 1645 Iskandar withdraws his garrisons in the Punjab back behind the Khyber Pass. Given the need to consolidate his authority in Persia proper, the strain on manpower, and Indian hostility he decided it would be best to pull back. Given his great military prestige post-Panipat, he can afford to do so.

    The biggest beneficiary of the change is the Sikh Confederacy. Although still small, it is a cut above its typical neighbors now and Ranjit Singh’s participation at Panipat meant that a proportion of the plunder afterwards ended up in Sikh hands. Moreover their participation in the progression gave them a good opportunity to scout out the lay of the new political landscape. But one element has not changed. The Empire of Vijayanagar lacks the ability to push north and fill the political vacuum itself, but the Vijayanagari do not want another imperial power to arise in northern India.

    Odysseus and Iskandar go by land across northern India, eventually taking ship in Thatta. They disembark in Basra and proceed north to Baghdad, a shadow compared to its pre-war days but still one of the largest cities in the area. The first task is to reward the soldiers who participated in this Odyssey. Roman battle and campaign medals are not new but this is the first time the Persians copy them. To receive a Panipat-badge, which show a Roman eagle and Persian lion defeating a great snake, is a special honor, a marker of a special bond between wearers. As soldiers depart to return home, they leave friends and comrades with whom they have shared incredible trials and glories. It is a bond that is not easily forgotten.

    An issue that gets wrapped up around this time is the matter of the Triune prisoners from the Viceroyalty. The Roman attack had provoked an unsurprising infuriated response from the Triune ambassador in Constantinople, with Athena privately expressing frustration as she had no inkling of this, but by that point it is a fait accompli. The Triunes demand restitution, which the Romans resist. One advantage of not retaining any territory in Bengal is that the Triunes cannot make any claims on Roman holdings there.

    Odysseus leaves the resolution of the matter in Athena’s hands; he has other concerns. She has no interest in a war with King’s Harbor, and Henri has no interest in a war with Constantinople. The loss of Bengal is a humiliation, outraging his English subjects, but he lacks the means to effectively retaliate against Rhomania where it would hurt and enough items on his docket already. So it is agreed that the prisoners will be released without ransom and their travel expenses, made a bit generous, for returning to the Triple Monarchy to be paid for by Constantinople.

    At this time Odysseus is engaged in some statecraft of his own, finally settling the status of Mesopotamia. Although the actual treaty is drawn up and signed in Baghdad, the speed with which it is organized strongly suggests that Odysseus and Iskandar had already worked up the details well in advance.

    Mosul and the area surrounding it, for twenty kilometers to the south of the city, is ceded to Rhomania. However the rest of the region is assigned to a new polity known as the Kingdom of Mesopotamia, with the relationship of Mesopotamia to Rhomania and Persia to be modelled somewhat after that of Cyprus to Rhomania and the Caliphate back in the 700s to 900s. Of the Mesopotamian state’s revenue, it is to keep 50% for its own purposes and send a quarter each to Rhomania and Persia. It is also to be mostly demilitarized, although it can keep a small military force and some minor fortifications to ensure internal order and keep local nomads in line. For foreign defense it is dependent on Rhomania and Persia, which both pledge in the treaty to defend Mesopotamia against any foreign invaders, including the other if that be the case.

    (In terms of Ottoman territorial concessions, the trans-Aras is also signed over to the Georgians in a separate treaty.)

    The new ruler of Mesopotamia is to be the unintentionally-appropriately-named Alexandros of Baghdad, the eldest son of Andreas III and Maria of Agra, who recently celebrated his twenty-first birthday. When he arrives in Baghdad he will wed the granddaughter of Suleiman Pasha, now Iskandar’s right-hand man. Accompanying him to Baghdad will be his brother Nikephoros of Trebizond, four years his junior.

    Also accompanying Alexandros is his mother Maria, who elects to go with her elder children by Andreas III as opposed to her younger children by Odysseus, which has certainly gotten many scholars to speculate on relationships. Some have criticized Maria (with the important qualifier that any decision an important woman makes is guaranteed to be criticized by men) for going with her children aged 21 and 17 and leaving her sons Herakleios and Demetrios, aged 13 and 6 respectively, in Constantinople.

    But it should be noted that her relationship with the White Palace had always been tense and awkward and uncomfortable even at the best of times; her mere presence and that of her children with Andreas III cast a shadow on Sideroi legitimacy. Even as Empress she’d been pushed into the shadows by Jahzara and Athena, not even being able to conduct much in the way of charity campaigns that are expected of an Empress. The prestige and public credit for those works were reserved for Jahzara and Athena. In Mesopotamia she would have much more opportunity to spread her wings, and she plays a significant, possibly crucial, role in bolstering Alexandros’s new regime. Given his Roman origins, Alexandros is not popular when he arrives.

    Another aspect of the treaty covers arrangement for the hajj. The Romans will allow the passage of pilgrims for this and will provide accommodations and supplies, for which the pilgrims can pay (pious wealthy Muslims can provide funds for this as charity). The Persians can even provide a limited number of soldiers to guard the pilgrim caravans, which would otherwise be juicy targets for Bedouin raiders, while the Romans will also provide security arrangements in exchange for a fund from the Persian government specifically for this purpose. Many Romans like to look on this as tribute, but the amount is such that the White Palace sees no profit (but no loss either) after paying the caravan guards.

    After the treaty is signed, there is a week-long celebration at the Topkapi Palace and the surrounding grounds, with feasts and parties, the participants the remaining soldiery attached to Odysseus and Iskandar. It is a final celebration before the parting of the ways, as the participants of this expedition resume their separate and more ordinary lives. And so they feast and drink and party, reveling in past successes, many anticipating future prosperity financed by the plunder they seized across the breadth of India. So they dream and dance, surrounded by the wrecked and near-empty remains of Baghdad, the debris, and the price, of other dreams.

    * * *​

    Topkapi Palace, Baghdad, October 2, 1645:

    Michael Pirokolos and Iskandar were at one of the buffet tables, sampling some of the shrimp. The sun had long set, but that had not stopped the revelers. Officers were dancing with local and not-so-local women; a few might actually have been their wives. The musicians had just been replaced by a new shift, with the former players tucking into plates brimming with breads and meats, although one had piled on a sizeable fraction of a sausage pizza instead.

    Odysseus came over to them, sipping from a wineglass. “We did it,” he said when he reached them. “We really did it.”

    Michael smiled. “We did.”

    “Still sometimes feels like a dream.”

    “It can’t be a dream. It’s too nice for that,” Iskandar said acidly. Both Michael and Odysseus nodded grimly in response.

    For a moment there was silence between them. “I just wanted to thank you both again for all you’ve done,” Odysseus said.

    “You’re heading up?” Iskandar asked.

    “Yeah, I’m tired and need to rest.”

    “Well, God go with you,” Michael replied.

    “And we’ll see you on the other side,” Iskandar added.

    Odysseus smiled. “I will.”

    * * *​

    Odysseus was in the private chambers he had taken up in the Topkapi Palace. He could still hear the celebrations continuing, but the noise didn’t bother him. They all had more than earned it.

    He looked out of his window which looked out over Baghdad. Next to it was a painting, Nighttime over Baghdad, which he had completed yesterday. It was to be the last in his series of Campaign Paintings, seventy-seven in all, stretching from the Hellespont to the Bay of Bengal. He was proud of those paintings, because they were truly of him. His victories on the battlefield had been made possible by Iskandar, by Michael, by all the men who’d served with him on that long march. But the paintings had been all Odysseus Sideros.

    He had fulfilled all of his promises. He had ensured that his younger brother would sit on the throne of his father. He had also given a throne to a son of his elder brother, and a chance now for Maria to have her own life. He didn’t know if it was enough, but it was all he could think of. And he had ensured that his father would have the oblivion he’d desired.

    He had fulfilled all of his promises, save one, that to himself. He had promised to himself that after he had fulfilled all of his other promises, he could rest, for he was tired. But he wanted the rest that held no dreams. He had had enough of dreams, for too many of them were nightmares.

    He looked out again through the window, upon Baghdad and the world, and spoke, quoting the reported final words of Caesar Augustus. “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” He took up the plain silver goblet that had been his father’s and drank all its contents down to the dregs.

    * * *​

    1645 continued: Odysseus Sideros is found dead in his chambers on the morning of October 3. Given the circumstances there are immediate rumors of poisoning and murder, but there are such rumors on the deaths of anyone important throughout most of history. Most scholars completely discount such tales, believing his death to be the culmination of the strain and injuries of the campaign, combined with probable illnesses contracted in India.

    His Indian exploits are what make the Romans call Odysseus “the Magnificent”, for the plunder brought back from the subcontinent is truly that. His expedition certainly lends itself to an epic quality, with more than a whiff of Alexandros Megas. It is unsurprising that his reign, made all the more dazzling by being brief, is regarded as splendid and glorious. With the brilliant lure of his victories in Persia and especially India, it is extremely easy to overlook the blood-soaked sands of Mesopotamia and the atrocities in Syria, and most Romans to this day prefer to do so.

    His death casts a pall over the celebration, although it was officially over the night before. However political disruption is minimal. Athena, acting as Regent for her absent brother, seamlessly transitions into being Regent for her underage nephew, and she fully approves of the arrangements of the Treaty of Baghdad.

    Odysseus’s body is embalmed in Baghdad but conveyed to Rhomania to be laid to rest in the Sideros mausoleum. He had reigned for a little over six years and was thirty-two years old.
     
    The Great Crime
  • The Great Crime

    The reign of Odysseus Sideros is often remembered as a period of magnificence and martial brilliance and there are understandable reasons for such a view. However it was during his reign that the Romans committed the Great Crime. He may have had little to no personal direct involvement, but he was Basileus at the time. But his reputation is little, if at all, tarnished by this. Even those aware of the chronology of both the Great Crime and the Great Expedition seem to lack any conscious awareness that they overlap in time, and that the second made the first possible by driving the Ottomans out of interior Syria.

    This is just one example of the fuzziness of Roman historiography surrounding the Great Crime. No one seems to be to blame for this; there was a crime but no criminal, or at least no criminal mastermind. Odysseus, as mentioned, is present in time but off-screen. Demetrios III, who probably deserves most of the blame as the architect, is dead when the culmination happens and his veil of obscurity serves him quite well here. And no one seems willing to lay the blame at Athena’s feet. Possibly because this is one of the rare cases where being a woman has an advantage over being a man; a misogynist will not think a woman capable of such things while a feminist would not want to smear a historical feminist icon. Another reason may well be though that blaming Athena makes it much more difficult to present the Great Crime as something that just somehow happened, which is convenient from the Roman perspective.

    It is a fundamental principle of historiography that to understand past eras, past eras must be evaluated on their own terms. The 1600s did not have a concept of crimes against humanity. There were rules of war and statecraft, but they were typically unwritten and based off custom, enforced by reciprocity. An example of the limitations is easily seen at the siege of Baghdad. The sacks of Rome, Mosul, and Baghdad drew notice for their brutality and thoroughness but were not considered in any way illegal by the standards of the day. Cities that did not surrender in time but were taken by storm forfeited any rights to mercy.

    The Great Crime is, by the standards of the 1640s, in the same category. It is exceptional in brutality and scope, but the difference is in degree, not substance. Elites thought little of extirpating rebellious populations; the bloodbaths that followed the defeat of any peasant uprising are clear examples of this. What makes the Great Crime exceptional for its age is the size of the rebellious population that is destroyed, but not the concept of doing so or the mentality and justification behind it.

    This is a common issue when studying the past. In order to properly understand past eras in their contexts and to avoid importing anachronisms and present-favoring biases, events and actions do need to be understood in the light of the value systems that existed when they happened. However that does not mean that those in the present must accept those value judgments for their own age. In an era that does recognize the concept of crimes against of humanity, the Great Crime absolutely qualifies.

    The Great Crime had arguably started in the early 1630s when Roman forces started targeting the populations of interior Syria deliberately, either for slaughter on the spot or for enslavement. Given the number of rebellions against Rhomania fought under the banner of Syrian Islam, already by that stage it was clear the Romans had decided that making a desert and calling it peace was a better option, from the purview of imperial security, than a continuation of Roman rule over the Sunni Syrian population.

    The numbers involved are unknown, but were small in comparison to those of the 1640s. That is why some argue that the events of the 1630s don’t really fall under the purview of the Great Crime, although they might be understood as a prologue. The distinction, if presented to them, would likely not be respected by the victims.

    Once Roman control is reestablished in interior Syria, as Odysseus is grinding through Mesopotamia and advancing into Persia, the Romans issue the edicts and begin enforcing them. Practitioners of Sunni Islam within Roman territory are to be expelled. There is still Sunni Islam in eastern Anatolia at this time, but the practices there are syncretic and viewed as quite dubious in orthodoxy by many Muslim clerics throughout the Dar al-Islam. Moreover the Christians there are also syncretic, with the boundary in religious practices between the faiths far fuzzier than doctrinal Christian or Muslim clerics would like. Going against the Muslims there would risk the rage of the local Christians, who share pilgrimage sites, business relationships, communal lifeways, and even kinship ties with the Muslims. This is in stark contrast to Syria where the distinctions between faith communities is sharper (although even there the distinctions are more permeable than might be expected.) So despite the wording of the decrees, which don’t make any distinction, they only go into effect in Syria, not in Anatolia.

    The texts only require expulsion, that practitioners of Sunni Islam must convert to a tolerated category or be evicted from Roman territory, but what is writ in the law books and what takes place out in the world are often quite different.

    There are those who do convert in order to stay, but after the brutal treatment by Orthodox Christian Roman authorities, the creed is understandably not very attractive. Those who do convert and remain are closely monitored to ensure they are not closet Muslims, with expulsion the penalty for backsliding. Accusations of being closet Muslims are sometimes weaponized in personal feuds, poisoning relationships among those who remain.

    The experience of those who leave vary widely, with much depending on local and personal circumstances. Some expulsions are fairly orderly and peaceful, with refugees who have means taking ship to North Africa or walking down to the Hedjaz or east to Persia to try and make new lives there. Those who have money and manage to keep it from being looted by Roman soldiers or local militias or brigands or Bedouin fare the best, but the number of opportunities for losing that wealth means these are very few in number and proportion.

    Most of the work of overseeing and managing the expulsion is done by various militia troops drawn from the local Greek, Melkite, and minority populations, with Roman regulars backing them up when needed. Areas that resist the expulsion order receive no mercy, with the line of what constitutes resistance depending on the temperament of the troops involved. Archaeologists have uncovered 5 mass graves dating to this time period which between them contain 2700-3100 bodies, where it is believed that defeated villagers were marched to an area, ordered to dig pits, and then beaten to death or shot and their bodies thrown into the mass grave.

    The number murdered in this or similar matter, as a proportion of the expelled, is likely very small for the reason that mass killing in this way with the technology of the period is a lot of work. Most of those murdered are killed via neglect and the environment. Those expelled are marched out of Rhomania, with limited resources devoted to the upkeep of the refugees. With hopelessly inadequate shelter, sanitation arrangements, and provisions, starvation, exposure, and disease scythe through their ranks, by their nature disproportionately affecting the very young and old and the infirm and ill. Some of this may have been deliberate as a way to kill them, or may have been the result of callous folloi-pinching, but either way makes no difference for the mothers too malnourished to feed their infants.

    There are examples of death by exposure that are clearly deliberate on the part of the guards, with many columns being stripped of all their valuables and driven into the desert to die. Other columns are also stripped of valuables but then sold off to slave traders. Many Latin merchants who are active in Roman Syria have developed a side-line in human trafficking due to the plentiful supply over the past few years. Bedouin guards are purported to be the worst when it comes to deliberately abusing their charges, but this may be anti-Bedouin prejudice. Christian Bedouin are not exempt from this, as in the constant battle between the desert and the sown, a shared faith makes no difference. On the other hand, the prejudice goes both ways, so it is possible that Bedouin would be more contemptuous of village-dwellers and quick to abuse them than other guards drawn from a similar material lifeway as the refugees. The reality is likely a mix of all factors, with local variations, and impossible to ever know with certainty.

    The experience of the expelled depends entirely on local variations, with the personalities and temperaments of the expelling forces a key factor, along with the personal connections between the guards and the refugees who often know each other. Sometimes this is to the disadvantage of the refugees, with much bad blood between Sunni and non-Sunni communities from recent history. However sometimes this can be to their advantage.

    Identification, location, and removal of the Sunni population is entirely dependent on the support of the local non-Sunni groups. In areas where relations between the religious groups are better, non-Sunnis often are not forthcoming. Groups and people are not monoliths so even with all the recent fighting and bloodletting, there are areas where relations between the religious groups have been warmer, largely based on common connections with shared religious sites, business arrangements, and even blood ties. However for those eager to use these as examples of the goodness in human nature must take pause when it is realized that in some cases, the aid is not so benevolent. The threat of denouncement is a tool that can be used to extort ‘favors’ from the Sunnis who remain.

    The pain and the sorrow does not end when the refugees leave Rhomania. The question mark hanging over Mesopotamia while Odysseus and Iskandar are out east means that the refugees can’t be settled there. Thus many refugees are ‘stalled’, and in the interim sent to what are little more than slave labor camps, working in northern Syria and Mesopotamia as well as eastern Anatolia. The work varies but provision and shelter is scant and those less labor-capable naturally suffer the worst from the conditions.

    After the Treaty of Baghdad they can start moving again, but the pain and sorrow is still not over. The Roman, Mesopotamian, and Persian authorities are all absolutely in agreement that these groups, while they need to be settled in various areas, must be broken up into small pieces. None of them want the Syrians remaining as a cohesive group, likely to cause trouble and strife, whether by agitating the locals or by stirring up animosity against the Romans. No government is eager for a coherent subject group that has a reputation for rebellion.

    The Mesopotamian and Persian Muslims are rather unsympathetic to the plight of the Syrian refugees, despite the religious connections. (A fact which incidentally undermines the Roman concerns about all Syrian Muslims being fifth-columnists.) Ironically the Syrians are viewed as contaminated by Christians, and in the fashion of many monotheists, they prefer outright infidels, the Christians, to the supposedly heretical Syrian Muslims. There is the argument that if the Syrians had been true Muslims, they would’ve left Syria when the Romans conquered it. As for the Mesopotamians, there is an additional factor in that they have themselves been recently devastated. Unable to act against the Romans who are truly responsible, the Syrian refugees are people who can be ‘punched down’ as a means to assert the Mesopotamians’ own power and agency.

    While families are left intact, village communities that had managed to stick together during the expulsion and march are usually broken up, with various village fragments mixed together at the new settlement sites. These sites range across Mesopotamia and Persia in depopulated areas, with the preference being for these to be surrounded by more reliable locals to keep them from causing any trouble. While various villages do maintain a tradition that traces back to Sunni Syria, these efforts are successful in destroying anything approaching a diaspora society.

    The numbers involved are sketchy, with the best estimate that over a five-year period 1 to 1.5 million people were expelled from Rhomania, with anywhere from 20 to 35% killed by sword, starvation, or the desert.

    The main beneficiaries are the local Syrians who remain. Much of the now vacant land falls to them, with land grants rewarded for their loyalty. The various Bedouin tribes who are Roman allies and auxiliaries are included in this, with former agricultural land bestowed as pasturage. With growing aridity and desertification, the desert is pressing harder on the sown. The allied Bedouin need to be compensated so that they will guard the frontier between the desert and sown while not becoming aggressors themselves. Greek colonists are brought in from Anatolia to settle some areas, but in numbers far smaller than those expelled, with the demographic consequences of the Little Ice Age cutting short anything more. The demographic vacuum left by the Sunni expulsion is thus mostly filled by the non-Sunni Syrians.

    Modern Roman memory of the Great Crime is that they try not to remember it. If they must, attention is focused on Syrian Sunni activities prior to the Great Crime. Ever since the conquest of Syria they had rebelled repeatedly, and several times those rebellions had also been the fuel for Romano-Persian wars. The situation was not sustainable and the logic of empire demanded a resolution. In short, the Syrian Sunni had it coming.

    In recent years there have been some remarks about a Roman apology to the descendants of the expelled, but these have gone nowhere. The general Roman response has been that a genuine apology would necessitate the return of the land as well as reparations. That is never going to happen, in which case an apology would be a meaningless empty gesture. And since it would be meaningless, there’s no point in doing it.

    Some of the Roman pushback has come about because of the nature of some of the sources arguing for an apology, the Latin West. Considering their treatment of Terranovan natives, more recent than the Great Crime and far more exterminatory in both word and deed, many Romans view such Latin efforts as transparent attempts to claim a moral superiority they don’t deserve.

    Were Romans at the time bothered by what was done in Syria? Polling the public of nearly 4 centuries ago is impossible, but the answer based on the limited data available seems to be no. The Imperial government never advertised the details of what was happening, but it didn’t censor it either. Most Romans, far removed from the events but remembering recent history, seemed pleased that the Sunni Syrian problem was finally getting a solution, or at least were indifferent.

    Some welcomed it, not because they were bloodthirsty or sadistic, but because of a Roman refrain that has been present since the Great Crime to the present. The Syrian Sunni had been a key component in the cause of the destructive and ruinous Romano-Persian wars of the 1500s and 1600s, from the Time of Troubles to the War of the Roman Succession. A restive Muslim population subject to Christian rule next to a powerful Muslim Empire whose ruler’s legitimacy depended partly on the defense of the faithful was a guarantee of war and strife. However it is argued that the removal of this issue was an essential precondition for the later peace.

    Some Romans felt differently. In their own way they viewed themselves as Roman patriots, but they remembered the Scripture that asked what good it was to gain the world if it cost a man his soul. They did not care for the dark turn in the Roman psyche and feared what it portended. What was done was done, in their minds, and could not be unmade. But there must be no more, for this was evil, and in their most famous words, “Evil must be opposed”.


    The wind glided through the empty halls,
    And silence reigned where once the children played.
    A broken doll, a mound of dirt, and a murder of fattened crows,
    Bear witness to what was done, but they do not speak.
    It is good that the clouds and stones and the ever-enduring earth are silent,
    Lest their speech be a curse upon the race of men,
    For all the horrors they have had to see.
     
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